When I was young (OK, younger) I wrote all the time. I wrote about practically anything that caught my fancy, usually friends, and the humorous situations I could put them in. Despite that, I never entertained the idea of getting my writing published. I can clearly remember thinking: ‘who am I to submit stuff? I’ve never done anything interesting.”
I believed then (and I suppose I still do to an extent) that a writer needs some life experience to be effective. An imagination is a fine thing, but at some point the reader will see through the imagined and realize that there is no substance to it. But what is life experience anyway?
I’ve had a couple situations in the past few days that made me ponder on that very subject. Odd how that works, isn’t it?
My definition (and probably everyone else’s too) is life experience is everything that happens to you… while you’re alive. Makes sense, doesn’t it? But is there any value in the bad parts of life? You know, things like your pet dying or the police taking your grandmother away. Maybe even things like hating your job or your boss. Why dwell on unhappiness?
I say there is value to those things! Perhaps even more value than all the good things that might happen to you.
Stories that are all happy and filled with sunshine might make you feel good, but without conflict, it goes nowhere. Think on any stories you’ve read or seen on television or… well anywhere really, and you’ll find that there is always a problem to be solved. That’s where the bad things in life come in handy.
The other night we had a severe windstorm blow through our area. I wasn’t too worried about it; all the constructs around our home are veterens of many similar storms. I should have been more concerned because at 3:00 am, my wife and I were awakened to the sound of our gazebo trying to shred itself.
We rushed into our clothes and ran downstairs and out the back door to try and save what we could. We were lucky, we managed to preserve most of the structure and canvas, but it was a war with the wind. I know the gazebo would have gone through someone’s house if we hadn’t been successful. It was damaged, but we all survived.
My wife and I got into the house, literally shaking with adrenaline and cold. My hands have never been so cold in my entire life. When they started to warm in the house, the pain shot from my fingertips right up to my shoulders. Neither of us could get back to sleep again and our hands bothered both of us for a couple days.
This obviously would qualify for an “unpleasant life experience”. It got me to thinking about movies I’ve seen and stories I’ve read where the characters have experience extreme cold. Remember that scene where Leonardo DiCaprio is in the water in Titanic? Now I understand why he simply slipped away and died. I also don’t understand how he could have had the will to even speak during the scene. My experience brought new perspective.
I would imagine those people who were on the Air Canada flight that dropped 4,000 feet before the pilot got the plane under control could write a very compelling story of the fear experienced in a plane crash. I’ve been on planes that have dropped a few feet, but I’ve been lucky not to have their experience. I’ll happily forego it even if it means I never write the ultimate airplane novel. Still, you’d better believe one of those people could, based on their experience.
I’m not saying that you should have do everything you write, that would be crazy. I would never consider killing someone just to understand what a murderer might feel or race the police to feel that thrill. What I am saying is you can flavor your stories with events that are similar to things that have happened to you. There are plenty of ways to bring those relevant situations to your work.
That’s when your readers can really start to immerse themselves in your writing.