Tuesday, October 16, 2007

When Writing What You Know Isn't A Great Idea

Ever had that chapter that just refused to be written?

For me, last week, it was chapter thirteen. (Most people would consider than an omen, but I'm a 13-baby - May 13th, oh yes - and as a result I did tend to have more luck with the number than most people.)

First I tried a time skip, then realized I needed to fill stuff in. Deletion of 1600 words. (Well, not quite deletion - I saved them separately - but still, it hurt.)

I pondered and wondered and mulled and pondered over where I could go next, and then it hit me: I could finally use that age-old technique of borrowing something almost completely from life.

At my church a couple months ago, we were sitting in the sanctuary, about three minutes before the evening sevice would begin. Almost everyone was already there. The youth group was in the choir loft, ready to sing.

Then a woman stormed in and called out her daughter's name. She counted down from five and, when said daughter did not appear, she said for the whole sanctuary to hear, "Alright, you're going to foster care."

Our ministers swooped in and tried to derail her, but by the time they made it down front she had launched into a tirade about how the youth group treated her son (who had just run through the sanctuary shouting "Go to Hell" at a different girl), how said different girl was the devil, on and on. She refused to leave until she'd finished her speech, and I think the cops were called in later. The girl she'd attacked and that girl's younger sister ran out of the choir loft in tears, and we somehow managed to have the service.

It was one of those things that left a weird taste with everyone who'd seen it. Perfect, I thought, for twisting, editing, and putting in a novel. (How's that for a cold, uncaring writer?) It would fit perfectly with my story, I thought, with its neon-sign themes of the disagreements between parents and children. So I wrote it up and left the computer for a break.

And ran into a massive block. Couldn't write another word. The character I'd introduced wasn't fitting, it had ruined the mood of the story, I just didn't like it. I think it's one of the first times as a writer that I've been able to trace a blah feeling in a story back to its source, and once I got rid of it, I was able to write again.

Have you ever had a writer's intuition be totally, utterly wrong? Bleh.


Carrie said...

For me the hardest part of using stuff from real life is that I can't distance myself from it. I tried this last year with a book and I realized that a lot of my scenes depicting my real life experience were falling flat because I kept writing them from *my* eyes rather than from my *character's* eyes. Plus, I was unwilling to bend the experience to fit my story.

That was my only experience with writing what I know. For my next WIP after that I tried to get as far away from what I know as possible and the book I wrote just sold. Go figure!

Carrie said...

ps: that is really crazy story, though, and sounds like it would be awesome in a book :)