Thursday, May 31, 2012

Write what you know, whether it makes you laugh or cry

I love the scene in “Something’s Gotta Give” where Diana Keeton’s character, Erica Barry, is at her desk, balling her eyes out in the most hysterical, touching way, while pouring her pain into her writing. Erica is most definitely writing what she knows.

And it’s the advice most aspiring writers start out with. It’s simple, yet it’s also involved.

You know what you can imagine, and your imagination can be as vast and infinite as, well, fiction. When I use my imagination, I feel exhilarated, unbound, and free. The limitations of real life can’t stop me because those boundaries don’t exist in my mind.

You also know what you’ve experienced. Bliss and pain, we all know these feelings bone, nerve, and heart deep.  You may not write the story of the boy who taught you the anguish of self-doubt, the friend who shocked you with their betrayal, the countless experiences that have shaped the core of who you are, or the secrets you keep out of love for others, but the sting, the shock, and the hurt come back to you when you write a scene that resonates. And maybe you cry at your computer…

And then maybe you laugh. Learning to have a sense of humor about life and its twists and turns can make you fearless in exploring a character’s vulnerabilities, making them more believable.  

I haven’t yet written a story that remotely resembles my life, yet now and then I bear the feelings I wouldn’t want to forget while I laugh and cry at my computer.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Why Romance?

I’m addicted to reading the news, which means I’m aware of what goes on in the world. I’m often heartbroken and appalled, sometimes amused, but seldom am I pleasantly surprised. Happy endings are always in question.  This is why I read romance, to be pleasantly surprised by how the story gets to the happy ending. The happy ending is not in question.

Sexually depraved fruit fly gets hammered and becomes a muse…

The actual title of the article I read was “Sexual Deprivation Increases Ethanol Intake in Drosophila and it captured my imagination. I'd love to know who came up with this study and… why? Why would anyone study a drunk and horny fruit fly?

Now, I’m not going to pester the author of this study with my questions because he sounds busy… but my mind keeps wandering and wondering and pretty soon there’s a new voice in my head. Some voices stay with me and become characters. Others fade away.

This new voice stays.  He becomes a very intense (and endearing) research scientist who’s absorbed by his fruit fly studies. My adorable geek begins to show me bits and pieces of his past and I see him as an inquisitive, dirty-faced little boy, chasing and collecting insects. He puts them in jars, pokes holes in the lids, and watches them, fascinated. The images make me smile and I wonder if this character will continue to reveal itself to me.

A few days later my eight-year-old wants to know if the word drunk is a bad word. He begins to tell me a (long-winded) story about an argument two kids had over this. As I nod and (pretend to) listen, my scientist comes back for a visit. This time he shows me a short reel of himself as an anxiety-ridden little boy, peeking out from inside his closet. He’s so sad. The jars he used to collect his insects are smashed on the floor.  Among the broken pieces of glass I see a label for a popular brand of vodka. Someone is storming out of his room, alternately grumbling and yelling. My future scientist is holding his breath, his heart thumping hard in his throat.

So I learn there’s a reason my character now draws on his passion for insects to help study alcoholism. This disease affected the carefree child I first imagined. He lets me in on his current, noble intentions, and I can’t help but care about him. I want him to fulfill his needs. I want him to have his own happy ending.

My geek is sexy when he’s exasperated. Who can exasperate my geek? Maybe someone who is his complete opposite, but who shares a similar history..? A rival scientist from his past with secrets of her own..? She hasn’t entered my mind just yet, but she will, probably inspired by a song on the radio, another article, or a random comment. And when she enters my mind I’ll begin spinning a new yarn with characters I really care about.

I’ll probably never know why the real author of this article studies fruit flies, but maybe you can let me in on what inspires you. I’d love to know.