Writing and "Real Life?"

Saturday, August 2, 2008
(This is my weekly contribution to the Amira Press Says blog at: http://amirapresssays.blogspot.com/ If you haven't stopped by there lately, please go check it out! We have a lot of talented authors at Amira Press!)

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The powers that be are allowing us to free-range blog this week, so I decided to tackle the subject writers are frequently asked: Where do you get your ideas and character?

As writers, we're told to write what we know. But how many of us are interplanetary travelers, or bumming around with vampires or demons? The truth is, duh, we aren't. That's not to say real life doesn't make it into fiction. Whether it's a character going through the anguish over losing a beloved family member, or writing about an annoying person, real life does make it into fiction no matter how fantastical the topic.

When you read a piece of fiction that truly resonates with you, regardless of the theme or genre, the author has successfully done their job of imparting "real life" into the characters and story. One of the greatest compliments I've ever received is a test reader telling me she cried. I wasn't trying to make her cry, but when I wrote the piece in question, I frequently stopped and wiped my eyes because of what I was feeling as I wrote it. That she felt the same emotion reading it that I felt while writing it meant I did my job. I conveyed "real life" through my words, and that's job satisfaction right there.

Putting words to paper, so to speak, puts our hearts and souls out there for the public to judge. Not just whether our commas are in the right place, or whether our participles dangle, but the content. Any writer who says they don't care if they get a scathing review is either lying or in desperate need of psychiatric intervention, because if they are a "real" writer, they have put their heart and soul into what they offer up for public consumption. Working on the "Brimstone" series, I jumped ahead and actually wrote book six the week after my grandmother died. I didn't mean to do that, but it was a way for me to work through my grief. As a result, the book is even darker than I originally planned. However, I truly think it's a better book than it would have been. One manuscript I'm shopping around is a fictional romance, but the hero is in a wheelchair. My son is a wheelchair athlete, and I deeply explore the world of disability and adaptive sports in a realistic way. My characters frequently have occupations I have either worked at personally, or have a lot of personal first-hand experience with. Most of my characters have at least one aspect carried over from real life, whether it's a trait or an emotion or a job or whatever.

The next time you read something, you might be pining along with a heroine in love with her werewolf co-worker, but you may be reading about a past love the author had. Or if you read about a nasty bad guy, you might be seeing a glimpse of something the writer (or someone close to the writer) went through.

In other words, just because it's fiction, doesn't mean there's not a grain of truth or fact in there somewhere. Always keep that in mind, especially when reaching for a box of tissues.

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