Mining Real Life for Fiction

One of the things I love about being a writer is how you can completely manufacture people, situations, experience and a world, and how you can use your own life experiences to strengthen the veracity of that world. I think of how the characters in Battlestar Galactica played Triangle – a completely manufactured game (I think) – but yet that physical, athletic ability gave Starbuck and Anders another dimension. Lee wouldn’t have played Triangle. Helo would have…but not cared as much about the game’s outcome as Starbuck. I’m guessing someone in the BSG development team played something – soccer, basketball, whatever – and used that experience to deepen the BSG world. As I’ve mentioned before, in LIBERATING LACEY Hunter plays Ultimate Frisbee because I played it once about 10 years ago. I’d never heard of it before joining a pick up game after work one day, and I’ve never played it since (I’m a sofa/book/cup of tea kind of girl). But it was there, in my subconscious, and Hunter played. Who knew?

Plucking events or details from your own life to enrich your stories isn’t limited to games. We got a Christmas card this year from one of my husband’s colleagues. It was a photo card, very nice, with one photo of the new baby and another, larger family shot. I flipped it over to see where it was made:

Not Shutterfly. Not Wal-Greens or Target.

As a writer, that’s the kind of detail I adore. I guarantee that one day I’ll use something similar to tell you everything you, the reader, need to know about a character. A person who chooses for their photo cards is a person with a very specific agenda on how to present him/herself to the world – an agenda not met by And I could use a ton of verbiage about being a Homecoming Queen married to the hottest neurosurgeon in the region. I could talk about designer labels on clothes, or the handmade lace christening dress, or hundred-dollar-a-place-setting wedding china with the gold edge and the rose in the center of the plate, or the Acura minivan.

Or I could have the heroine get an invitation, turn it over, see the website address, snort, and go on with her life. She’ll go to the party and meet the hostess and before I’ve said one word about her the reader will have an impression of who the hostess is and how she views life. There’s no judgment implied in any of this. It’s just a detail, one of the hundreds we see every day in the choices people make…and those details build a richer, more vibrant experience for the reader. So note them and file them away. Ultimate, Triangle, where someone buys their greeting cards…it’s all grist for the mill!

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