Thursday, March 11, 2010

Using Real Life

Since this is my first novel, I'm discovering the process of how my book is being created as I go. Every day it feels like I find a new corner of this creative process and I'm always amazed at how much of my everyday life goes into the production of this book.

I guess it never occurred to me before how much fiction is based on actual real life events, but presented in such a way so that it reads as make-believe. A story has to come from somewhere, and while my imagination may supply the plot, the characters, the conflicts, and the resolution, my brain uses all sorts of things I observe and dumps them back into the story. I notice the setting-related items most often. At the moment I'm in the middle of a scene where Jack heads to the local bowling alley to see if he can find his missing brother-in-law. I'm having a blast creating this little out-of-the-way bowling center, and I'm using everything I can from the Clark Kent job to make the scene more realistic.

I've seen so many things from my own life spun into the web of this novel - things I didn't even plan, my brain just plucked them out of my subconscious and used them automatically for window dressing. Riverbanks. Flags on the fruit stand. The hot South Carolina summer and all its accoutrements, from the continuously singing insects to the flat heat laying on top of your skin like a blanket you can never pull off.

Now that I know and understand this part of the writing process, I find myself hoarding ideas and images in my mind for later use. Terrible yellow light spilling out onto the land just before sunset, bathing everything in a surreal coating of sinister gold? Check. Old man at a liquor store, smacking teeth against dentures, plucking at the front pocket of his overalls? Check. Cool and calm screened-in back porch on a summer evening, enjoyed with a fresh bowl of cut peaches? Check.

It makes me wonder, now as I go back and read books by favorite authors, how many images and scenes were taken directly from that writer's life. Now when I read Stephen King - especially the last two books in the Dark Tower series - I get a real sense of who he is, and how Maine influences him and his writing.

The windows of the buildings in my mind came from somewhere outside myself - it's amazing to watch those buildings grow and change as my environment shapes the tale I'm spinning.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That's a good idea to write that stuff down.

Anonymous said...

I sort of first realised writers do this when I started reading the collected journalism by one of my favourite fiction writers, Arturo Pérez-Reverte - I knew most of his thrillers back to front at that point so I was practically going through the journalism pieces and going 'All right *that's* why that café is there...'

Anonymous said...

I use real settings in my books. I have one in the pipeline, a Stephen King thriller type, that takes place in rural Michigan. Although I grew up in Lansing (capital city), my parents grew up in the country side and I'm using this setting as the backdrop.

Stephen Tremp

Tamika: said...

The flurry of leaves on a breezy March day. Check.

Love it! It all makes its way in our writing.

One of my favorite quotes from Henry Thoreau:
"How vain it is to sit down and write when you have not stood to live."

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I sometimes use real places, but almost never real events in my life. I think I've used only one!

Arlee Bird said...

I think this is what is meant about writing what you know. You can relate the most far-fetched thing in the universe but it has to be tangible to the reader's experience and that is rooted to a great extent in the writer's experience. The things like you described can be mixed up and redesigned to fit any story. It's like writing music-- you've got your notes and scales and you keep using the same ones, but you change them around to convey what you want the listener to hear.
I like the way you presented to us what you are doing in your writing process.

Lola Sharp said...

How our brains work, create, connect, assimilate and then transfer to what and how we write is fascinating...and fun! I'm so happy you are having fun with it.

I enjoyed this post... and now I'm craving a peach.

(I lived most of my adult life in the Charleston area--and we go down a few weeks every summer. The Low Country is home to me, and I miss those peaches)