writing from experience
My story “Unfinished Business” is about memory and the childhood death of the narrator’s friend. They say that every writer must get a few key stories out of the way: their first experience with love, with disappointment, leaving home, their first experience with death. “Unfinished Business” is based on an incident in my youth, and I had worked on the story for more than ten years before I got it to what I considered final form. It went through various structures, points of view, narrators, and titles.
What it didn’t go through, however, was research. I crafted the story solely from memory and imagination.
I think I may have mentioned here before that I was once in a writing group in which one of us had written story about death. My fellow writer had researched the Kubler-Ross model of the 5 Stages of Grief and then had her protagonist go through each of them in proper order through her interior monologue. In our discussion of her story, the writer pointed out how accurate her portrayal was.
Years later, when I first began fiddling with what would become “Unfinished Business” I remembered that woman’s effort and thought I needed to study the 5 Stages so I could write my story “properly.”
But somehow I escaped making that mistake. I’ve never been one for conventional wisdom, and given that my story would be based on my actual experience, I realized it didn’t matter what the “official” process was; my experience was just as “official” as any other. I was going to write my story. And that’s what I did.
I suppose someone with an objective eye could read that story and identify at which points I (well, my protagonist, right?) hit on each of those 5 official stages, but I wouldn’t want to know that. I think if I had set out to write the story with that structure in mind, I never would have gotten past merely that, and the story would have probably languished.
I’ve been working on some other stories of significant life events in the lives of my characters (for those Fathers and Sons stories), and while one is not based on my actual experience (first love), I really don’t feel the need to research the feelings or the experience of it to know I’m doing it “right.” I think I can trust my imagination to create a credible, realistic story. (Granted, I have sent an early draft to a couple of readers who can give me perspectives I don’t have, but that doesn’t seem to be the same thing as looking up some “official” script.)
For the most part, I’m keeping my own counsel, comfortable in the conviction that a serious writer is creating, adding to the collection of scripts, inventing the world.
Lofty thinking, I know, but it gets me through the days and nights.Explore posts in the same categories: Rants and ruminations comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.