This month I’m writing my blog from a hospital bed. Nothing major, but unfortunately this little side-journey means I’ll be out of action for a week or few.
Being immersed in an experience I’d rather have bypassed has lead me to take a different slant on our Simply Writing topic for this month. When will I get a better opportunity to talk about something relevant to my situation . . .
Writing from experience.
As a writer, do we ever switch our brains, imagination or creatability off?
(Sidebar: I know ‘creatability’ isn’t a real word, but shouldn’t it be?)
For me, I’d have to answer that question with an unequivocal, NO.
No matter where I am or what I’m doing, I store away both small and large details for future use.
Life comprises some of the most valuable research in relation to our stories, and any one of our experiences has the potential to become a critical scene in a story, even if it’s not until many years later.
Writing from an angle of experience can form the lynchpin to realism and believability.
With this in mind, what are some of the things we can do to prepare for this as we muddle about in our daily lives?
- Stop and TAKE IN THE VIEW
Sometimes we’re so busy rushing from A to B, we forget to take in details of our environment: form, light, colours, movement, anything and everything that constitutes our surroundings. So, if you have time, stop. Look around. What do you see? Then once you’ve catalogued your setting, take these observations one step further and focus on visuals that stand out. Visuals that characterise the area or person you are describing. What depicts this ‘thing’? What features or traits can you detail to give the reader a unique visual experience within the pages of your book?
Catalogue these ideas and analyse each one, along with any bias. How will they lead your reader to view what you are describing? What do you want the reader to think? To feel? What elements of your surroundings can you focus on to gain the desired response?
Setting can play such a vital role in our stories, but it must be handled with care. A dump of description can lose the reader. They want action, they want to get to know about your characters and they want to see the plot advance. So, season your story with a sprinkling of setting, just enough to give the reader a sense of where your characters are, not too much to make them switch off.
The short of it? Look around and take note. Whatever you see should find a way into your stories when you write those valuable, ‘from experience’ scenes.
The walls aren’t all white as I’ve always imagined. They are fringed with mud brown, as is the nubby floor carpet tiles. They are spotless, devoid of personality but for sterile signs warning of possible cross contamination if cleanliness isn’t observed and strict visiting hours.
I’m not near a window, so the light is blinding and unnatural.
The bedsheets are white. As are my gown and even the towels they bring for my first shower. Spotless but not pristine – there’s an underlying grey that only comes from over-washing.
Everything is over worn and over used. The nurses, over friendly. That is, the day ones. The night ones tend to have the rough not so carefully smoothed. There’s a cut to their words I never noticed in daylight. Or maybe that’s because I’m groggy and woken for meds I don’t need and blood pressure testing I don’t want.
- SMELL THE ROSES
Okay, maybe not just the roses, but hopefully you get what I mean here. One of the most evocative senses is smell. Aromas conjure up a cohort of memories and emotions. They have the power to entrench our readers deep into a scene, and into our character’s point of view, yet they are one of the most common elements that writers tend to overlook.
So, as you wander through life, through every one of your daily routine tasks, take time, even if it’s a second or two, to smell the roses. But don’t stop there. As you smell, analyse. How do you feel? What emotions and/or memories does this aroma evoke? And as you ask yourself these questions, and receive the answers, go one step further.
If the aroma rouses feelings of happiness, or perhaps sadness, what is the resulting visceral reaction? How is your body reacting? Take note of your heartrate, your body temperature, and anything else of note. Your stance, your muscles, even your expression. Yes, you won’t see it – unless you’re standing in front of a mirror – but you will feel your facial muscles reacting to the emotion. Analyse.
Then when you can, make notes.
I don’t notice much in the way of smells. Where’s the sharp cut of disinfectant I’ve smelled as a visitor previously? Maybe the tube attached to my nostrils dulls any odors other than the clean metallic smack of fresh oxygen. Then a smell comes to me. A smell that accompanies the rumble of a distant trolley. The meal cart. An over cooked, sickly smell of food bordering on the inedible. It makes my stomach roll and any hunger I might have felt previously recedes.
- LISTEN TO THE MUSIC
Much like smells, sounds have the potential to evoke emotions and memories.
Again, this is not music in the sense of pop, rock and roll or the blues Top 100, but it’s any sounds you can hear as you do whatever you do.
It’s important to analyse those sounds. Can you break them down? Do they sound like anything else? How do they make you feel?
Perform the same internal analysis as you did for aromas, then make sure you write it all down.
As I lie in my hospital bed I notice that it’s quieter than I’d imagined. Less sterile. There’s an air of expectancy, as if everyone’s waiting for something to happen, but they don’t know what. I’m attached to so many tubes I feel like a pin cushion, and the nasal cannula – a fancy name for a tube transporting oxygen into my nostrils – whooshes softly, the sound like a deck of cards being fanned.
The nurses rubber soled shoes barely make a sound, and their voices are hushed.
This is my impression when I first return from surgery, still dosed high on anesthetic and pain killers. Perhaps as this haze fades, other details will come into focus. The nurses’ voices not so hushed, harsher now. Phones, conversation, a new patient in the bed next door, her mother’s constant chatter like the cackle of a crow high on cocaine.
- TOUCH THE WORLD
Whether we are aware of it or not, we all ‘feel’ our way through life.
Touch is such an essential sense for humans, that when deprived it can trigger disturbances in both our minds and/or our bodies.
Our skin is the largest organ in our bodies. With a massive network of nerves, touch is a natural way of interacting with our environment and communicating with others around us.
So, as you go about your daily routine, think about how you physically interact with your surroundings. What substrate are you walking on? Grass? Gravel? Is it hard? Soft? How does it feel beneath your shoes or feet? The incorporated some of the other senses. How does it sound? Smell? Can you draw comparisons with other experiences?
The gown and bedsheets aren’t crisp, they’re harsh and heavy and rough against my skin. The pillow crunches beneath my head every time I turn, but I’m too tired to ask for the nurse to change it to the one I have in my luggage.
I can’t feel my cuts, or every tube that should make me feel like a pin cushion but doesn’t. My skin doesn’t feel real, or even attached to my body. It’s as if I’m detached from all and everything around me.
- TICKLE YOUR TASTEBUDS
Gastronomic delights are not just food for the stomach, they’re food for the soul as well. Texture, temperature, taste – these are all details we should bear in mind as we bite, chew and swallow our food.
But the work of our taste buds doesn’t end there. Believe it or not, much of our environment is experienced through taste. Smog, petrol fumes, perfume, even the fresh night air. Yes, we smell these, but the olfactory glands work closely with the taste receptors on the tongue, informing us about any air or vapors we breathe in, along with any food we may eat.
Then there’s our body’s visceral reactions. Fear. Anger. Laughter. Pain. Think about what chemical reactions might occur in the body to transmute into taste. Bile. The copper cut of blood. When you laugh so much that you’re crying. What happens in your mouth then?
Each time you feel these emotions, take a moment to analyse what tastes – if any – your taste buds are sensing. Make a note, then add these details to your writing and make your story more real.
When I breathe in, metal and cold hits my tongue. Nothing tastes real or right, even the saliva in my mouth. Maybe it’s the anesthetic still humming through my system, or the drugs dulling my senses with every press of a button.
All I know is that my hunger has left me and the thought of food brings bile to the back of my throat. I know this won’t last. That my body’s need for sustenance will soon outweigh my stomach’s rejection. And then, only then, might I be able to force the contents of those little white trays past my lips and into my mouth.
- LIFE’S EVENTS, BOTH LARGE AND SMALL
Maybe this should have come first, but I didn’t want to underwrite the importance of the five senses in writing from a point of realism.
So, what do I mean by life events?
Anything and everything that has happened to you since the moment you were born. From the mundane to the magnificent. From waking up in the morning, brushing your teeth to leaving the house for whatever the world has waiting for you, to wins and losses, loves, heart aches and heart breaks.
These are the moments in life that define you. Events that shape you and make you into the person you are today. These are the times that make you laugh, cry, rant and rejoice.
When these events hit, the last thing on our minds is how we can use this experience in writing, yet these are the most valuable experiences we have when it comes to research.
“It’s not cancer.”
That’s something, at least.
It sounds ungrateful, I know. But the parasitic growths feeding off my ovaries make every day a difficult one. Energywise. Comfortwise. Painwise.
That we’d ruled out the ever looming ‘C’ word was a relief, but I wasn’t home free yet. Now we’d found the problem, a cure was in sight. Operate.
My stomach clenched and again nausea clambered up my throat. Just one of the byproducts of housing multiple cysts the size of grapefruits in your stomach. Better out than in. Only, the ‘out’ part scared the living crap out of me.
Not that they’d open me up and take out what was making me sick. That was what I wanted. Of course it was.
But what if they took it out and nothing changed? What if removing the cysts didn’t make one iota of difference?
And so ends my take on writing from experience. A catalogue of ideas that may or may not find their way into a story sometime in the future. A place where we interact with our environment and other beings around us, whether human, animal or alien and then write, taking note and building upon the knowledge to create worlds and lives that are believable to our readers J
I know I’m short on examples this month, and I apologise. I’d hoped to find more inspiration from my situation, but I’d underestimated the lingering effects of anesthesia and pain killers. But perhaps you can help me out by posting your own examples below? If so, I’ll add your name twice to the draw as a sign of thanks.
But, back to the blog . . .
Notice anything about the first five elements listed above?
Hopefully you’ve just screamed out, ‘they’re the five senses’. ‘Cos if you did, you’re right J Namely, Sight. Smell. Hearing. Taste. Touch.
So intrinsic to our lives, yet as we guide our characters through their story, we tend to forget to show their interaction with the world we’ve built around them.
This includes how they act and react to that world.
And how do we do this with realism and believability?
Write from within our own life experiences.
Every single one of us has lived a world of experience. We each have our own unique stories, our own unique reactions, thoughts and emotions. Why not use this uniqueness in your story and write something that no one else but you can write?
This doesn’t mean you should write characters based on you or someone you know. Do this, and you’ll soon run out of unique personalities. Instead, take little pieces of your experiences and relate them to your characters, their lives and their GMC (Goal, Motivation, Conflict). Tweak them a little, make them shine, but draw their essence from real life experience and your readers won’t be able to help but believe.
Write from within your life experience, and write with a sense of realism that captures the hearts and minds of your readers.
Thanks to all you lovely peeps out there, who’ve read and commented on my previous posts – either directly on the blog post or on the social media mentions.
Now for appreciation time! As a thank you for reading and supporting this post, I’d like to offer one lucky commenter a critique of three hundred words of their current work in progress, with particular emphasis on writing from experience.
To enter the draw, comment below and share what particular point or points in this post resonated with you. When have you written a scene ‘from experience’? How did your experience help you with deepening the details of the scene? What do you think you would have missed out if you hadn’t ‘been there, done that’ before writing?
Any and all comments welcome! I’d love your feedback and input 🙂
Plus, this week I’m giving away extra chances to win. All you need to do is share links to this blog on any or all social media sites. Tag me so I know you’ve shared, and the more shares, the more times I’ll place your name in the draw to win.
A name will be drawn a week from today, on Monday 18th June, by 5pm DST and winners will be notified on the blog, so keep your eyes and ears peeled 🙂
Thanks so much for stopping by. Have a fabulous month, and I’ll see you all again in July.
LINK TO ORIGINAL POST: