Today, we have Part 2 of Morgan St. James' column on how to use your life experiences in your writing.
WHY KEEP THE NOTEBOOK?
You might not have immediate need for any of these impressions, adjectives or adverbs when they catch your attention, but when you need something special you have references from your own experience or imagination. A favorite that I jotted down, just because I liked the sound of it, was “like an old dowager attempting to keep her dignity.” It was from some old 1940’s movie on late night TV, but the image stuck with me. Later I used it in Devil’s Dance, a book I wrote under the pseudonym Arliss Adams, to create a visual image of a shabby sofa with arm caps covering the worn spots. A description of a dowager wasn’t related to a sofa, but the image of hanging onto the last bit of dignity was clear.
When placing a character in a situation that is emotional, whether the scene is one of love at first sight, terror, or delight at seeing a new baby, the deep emotional reaction must be felt. Your character must feel it so the reader can as well. That reaction isn’t one sided. It’s both physical and mental. You can soar to the heights or drop to the depths. You might swell with pride or be reduced to tears. That is the mental side. What are the physical reactions? Does the stomach twist in spasms? Is the person so happy they actually feel a bit lightheaded? That’s where the writer becomes the method actor.
WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW
You’ve probably heard that saying so many times you’re sick of it. Still, the majority of us have had experiences that produce these emotions and physical reactions. Your own experience may have no direct relationship whatsoever to the actual mechanics of the scene you’re in the process of creating, but the feelings are the same.
Think back to those times and immerse yourself in the memory. For example, the odds are you have never been threatened at gunpoint as your scene now dictates, but have you been in an accident? Have you taken tests at a doctor’s office and awaited the results? Have you walked through a dark, isolated area, then heard a noise? What did you feel? Terror. What does your victim feel? Terror. Again, it’s not the same situation, but terror creates a set of physical and mental reactions, regardless of the situation.
YOUR NOTEBOOK BECOMES YOUR PERSONAL DATABANK
To grasp those feelings, forget about how to relate your memory to the scene in your manuscript. Instead, as you picture it, enter what happened to you or what you experienced in an “Experiences” section of your notebook. While you are writing down your own feelings, let your mind roam free. Capture the emotions that surge back as the memories take hold. Now you have a record of what that emotion feels like. Surprisingly, it can be applied to a multitude of manuscripts, because the basics are the same. Let’s say the reaction was surging thoughts. The only difference is they become the thoughts that apply to that particular situation and will vary with the storyline. But, the thoughts still surge.
REALITY INSPIRES FICTION OR CREATIVE NON-FICTION
My two latest books are examples of translating real stories into fiction or creative non-fiction. Who’sGot the Money?, co-authored by Meredith Holland, involves a fictional plot centered around a little known big business. It is a very clever scam to embezzle millions from the federal prison department. While this book is fiction, it was inspired by things Meredith and I experienced while actually representing the manufacturing division of the federal prison system, an Eight Hundred Million Dollar a year business. We realized what we knew could fuel a very funny crime caper.
Confessions of a Cougar is a writing style called creative non-fiction. The story is essentially a true story of escapades in England where my friend and I officially became cougars, older women involved with young men, during a 1982 trip paid for by my millionaire boyfriend. It was a case where sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, but just needs a little embellishment to turn it into a compelling book. The names were changed for legal reasons, but just about everything in this romp through Europe is true.
TAKE A HARD LOOK AT SOME OF THE THINGS THAT HAVE HAPPENED TO YOU DURING YOUR LIFE.
Consider all of the above and analyze what you have. You might be sitting on a best seller, and not know it.
MORGAN ST. JAMES - Author/Speaker/Columnist
Award-winning Author/Speaker/Columnist Morgan St. James’ says her just-released book, Confessionsof a Cougar, is a story that begged to be told. Funny and romantic, it’s a true story of coming of age at 42 with some delicious young guys.
Her short stories appear in Chicken Soup for the Soul books, other anthologies. Recently released The MAFIA FUNERAL and Other Short Stories is a collection covering everything from true stories to fiction, mystery to romance and some genres in-between. She has written over 500 published articles relative to the craft of writing and people in the industry, as well as the book Writers’ Tricks ofthe Trade: 39 Things You Need to Know About the ABCs of Writing Fiction.
Her list of published novels continues to grow, with Vanishing Act in Vegas, the recently released third comical Silver Sisters Mystery co-authored with her sister Phyllice Bradner, and the funny crime caper Who’sGot the Money? co-authored with Meredith Holland.
St. James is an entertaining speaker, presents workshops and frequently appears on author’s panels. Morgan edits and publishes of the online eZine Writers Tricks of the Trade and writes columns for the Los Angeles and Las Vegas editions of Examiner.com.
Visit her websites
#NEWRELEASE Confessions of a Cougar is now available at Amazon! Ebook and Paperback