Thursday, May 22, 2014

Mining Your Life - Details That Bring Life To Your Story

Karlie with you today!
We've all heard the adage repeated, time after time - Write what you know. People usually forget to add the last part - but not only what you know. If we did that, we'd be pretty boring authors.

However, you can enrich your books with those details you've picked up, those processes you have intimate knowledge of - it doesn't have to be professional. For example, I run a ranch in central Mississippi. Between the horse training and the cows and the fencing (and everything in between) I could write a slew of books set on a ranch. But my love is how to translate?

Can I use my experience with horses? What about the feeling of working in boiling/freezing temperatures - in the dark? Or even the business side of things?

Even in a fantasy novel, I can write what I know, even while using a completely different setting in a completely different world.

What about you? Can you use your experiences? Can you mine your life for both the detail and the firsthand knowledge that brings the life to your fiction?

Readers, can you tell when the author knows what he/she is talking about? Does it bring depth to your reading experience?

Caitlin:  I don't have any interesting ranch experience, sadly, but I definitely try to pull in the nitty gritty aspects of life to make my writing feel authentic. It doesn't even have to be some special expertise or experience. I try to take note of funny conversations with friends, or the way I know a coworker is uncomfortable or happy or nervous because of their body language. And then I also remember little things, like how great it feels to carve a pumpkin and be elbow deep in pumpkin guts, how my lungs burn and my body shakes in a good way after a race, or how I feel when I kiss my husband. These small, everyday experiences can add up, or at least I hope they do!

Lisa:  Jobs, trips, people...they're all fodder for stories. You know the actors who are so determined to get into character that they do what their character does? Like John Voit going around in a wheelchair for weeks before playing Franklin D. Roosevelt, or Demi Moore going to strip clubs. Even musicians: Ed Sheeran frequenting a homeless shelter then writing A-Team. That's me. My thinking is I don't ever know what sort of character I'm going to come up with, the setting of my next book, the job she might have. So I have an almost-never-say-no policy to experiencing new things or meeting new people. That's gotten me into a few tight spots (I ended up in the path of a tornado last time I didn't say no), but it always works out. I've put myself through hours of dad needed to go to Kentucky to make a delivery for his work last year and I had no idea what could be of interest to me in Kentucky, but I went just to see what I could see. The thing is, a writer can't be lazy in life and shouldn't be close-minded about possibilities. Like your ranch expertise, Karlie, you will use life experience whether you intend to or not.

Dan:  I think there's merit to this idea, because when you write while drawing something that you know about, it usually comes through. There's a certain subtle (or not so subtle) authenticity to it. For example, Michael Crichton's medical thrillers have that feel because he went to Harvard Medical School. Every writer that I've met has had some truly unique experiences -- working odd jobs, living abroad, joining the military, etc. -- that aren't very common. For my part, I'm a bowhunter, and I think spending all of that time in the woods becomes evident whenever my characters are in a forest. An author's experiences, even the mundane ones, are great fodder for writing. Having said that, I do think there's room for solid research to take the place of experience. Not all of us have done everything that we want to put in our novels. I haven't owned a horse, but I have ridden and researched them enough (I hope) to get some of the details right. If I haven't, I'm sure that Karlie will tell me.

1 comment:

  1. Dan, have you ever gotten a huge spider on you while in the woods? I have. You should write a novel about that. A horror novel about spiders in the woods.