Saturday, 23 February 2013

Writing From Experience - Part 2


Experience provides writers with an understanding and knowledge of an assortment of subjects that would otherwise need a fair amount of imagination to convince a reader of the realism in your story.
Our personal experiences of life provide the perfect fodder for our writing, whether they are gained through working in various environments and with certain people, experiences of the ups and downs of family life, or through travelling the world.

Experience provides familiarity in writing.
If we have some knowledge of or awareness of something – whatever it might be – then as writers we can use those experiences to help build around our writing in order to may it more enjoyable for the reader.

I’ve been fortunate to have crammed in an awful lot in my life so far.  Some experiences have been fantastic and unforgettable, some have been hilarious, some joyous, and some just plain stupid, but they are all snippets that find their way into my writing because not only are they a rich source of ideas, but they give the writing a touch of authenticity.
I’m also lucky enough to have travelled the world and enjoyed all that it has to offer – that means all the wonderful things, the beauty and majesty, and the people, but also the terrible parts of it, such as poverty and cruelty. 

Every trip is stored in my memory, ready to use in my writing, whether it’s about ancient ruins in the Mayan jungle, the scratching heat of the Gobi desert, being up close and personal with the creatures beneath our oceans, or experiencing the deprivation of shanty towns in Africa.  Experiences such as these find a way into my writing.
And with those recollections, I can also share the emotions associated with these memories. Emotions are attached to all memories, and it’s up to a writer to exploit them.

Others experiences have been incredibly scary, tragic and painful, things like the death of a loved one for instance, but writers shouldn’t be afraid to visit those memories and include those emotions in their writing.  Sometimes, the benefits of such realism far outweigh the disadvantages of revisiting sometimes sad and painful memories.
If you are able to reach deep inside for those recollections, you’ll find that they add a unique insight to your writing, they add depth and perspective and richness to the narrative that imagination alone wouldn’t achieve.

In many of my stories I’ve looked to my experiences to add depth and to enrich the writing to achieve a sense of realism.  For example, in Dark Water, a short story about a shark hunting a diver, I used some real elements from my encounters with sharks and a few other sharp-toothed beasties while diving in Mexico.  I could draw on the emotions, the trepidation, the strained excitement and the imagined fears to add to and enhance the narrative and the descriptions.
Of course, not all recollections will be like that.  Even the mundane ones are useful, such as writing about a character that has crashed his car and has suffered a badly broken leg and he needs to get help – writers who have broken a limb will know what that feels like. 

Or maybe you have to write about lawyers or a courtroom, and you have experience of the profession or its processes.  Perhaps you worked in nursing and can use those experiences in a story, or you have volunteered to help homeless people, so have an understanding of that that feels like.
The reader might never have experienced the same things as you, so the depth of realism depends on the strength of your writing. Conversely, they may have gone through something very similar, therefore they should feel empathy and a shared sense of understanding with the narrative. 

The idea of using our life experiences in our writing is to help the reader feel like they are a part of the story, that it feels real to them.  The strength of your writing will convey that.
Summary - Writing from experience:

·        It gives a richer story, full with emotion.
·        It gives a unique insight.
·        It is more engaging, because it feels real for the reader, through your descriptions.
·        It adds perspective to the narrative.
·        It gives a sense of immediacy, particularly if readers have gone through something similar.

As writers, we have a rich tapestry to dip into – our life experiences. Don’t be afraid to use them, because it’s very true: You should write what you know.

 
Next week: Is it bad to have autobiographical elements in stories?

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