Monday, January 27, 2014

Using Real Life in Your Writing

Saturday, I had a fun afternoon planned with some special friends. We were going to have a “girls day” at the movies and see the critically-acclaimed August: OsageCounty that has finally made its way to our small-town multiplex. With low temperatures and high winds, it wasn’t the most ideal of days for it. But, once you are inside a cozy theater caught up in a movie, who cares about the weather?

I live ten miles outside of the town and as I departed my home at a little before noon, it was windy and cold, but only the slightest of snow was blowing. One of the friends I was meeting had texted me about 30 minutes earlier that the winds were horrible, but I didn’t think anything about it. I was excited to be with friends and see acting favorites Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts.

But, as a drove toward my destination, the weather changed dramatically. Snow had begun to fall and what wasn’t sticking to the roads seemed to be doing a dance on top of it. The wind created a shimmering effect that was mesmerizing. Once into the town limits, my cell phone began ringing and beeping as my friends were discovering the same curtain of weather that I was. We would not see our movie. We would travel home in case the weather turned even worse. I was sad, but safety was more important.

Slowly and carefully, I made my way home, keeping watchful eyes on the roadway and the drivers around me. But my mind, my mind was imprinting itself with what my eyes were seeing. If found myself speaking out loud, writing a verbal description of the unique way that the weather was presenting itself. I wanted to save it to use in a description and I did just that.

Many people who have read my novels have asked how much of what I write comes from real life. It’s a hard question to answer. I doubt that there is a writer, living or dead, who hasn’t used something out of their own life in the stories they create. More frequently, I believe that writers take a spoonful of real and dip it into their cup of fiction. It’s how well they stir it that really helps “tell the tale.”

I’ve heard it said that there are no new stories, just new ways of telling them. I think the premise behind that is correct. Writers borrow the basic frame of a story and then put their own personal twist on it, intentionally or not. Is not the modern story of Harry Potter and his two friends similar in many ways to the saga of Dorothy and the three who help her on the Yellow Brick Road? The creativity comes in how the writer takes that skeleton and builds the body of the story to be its own unique individual.

So, I took a little real life and now it has a place in the upcoming fourth installment of the Legends of Graham Mansion series. Someone will drive through a winter storm and you will see through their eyes what I saw through mine.

I really would have rather seen Meryl, but that will have to be a story for another day.


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