I think I speak for most fiction writers when I say we write what we know. Even when we think we’re writing/thinking outside our mental box, we’re really just borrowing something we have already absorbed from the world around us and now see from a different view. Living does that. Life demands it.
Moments in our lives can take what we thought we knew and widen it to proportions we will never be able to shrink back from. And then with the same gusto, break our thoughts and dreams down to scatter them to the winds, only to be rebuilt again different. Moments shine lights on ideals and set fire to new ones, but just as easily can yank them by the scruff of the neck and tosses them into shadows making us ask… “What the hell just happened?”
But what about writing based on what we feel through our empathy and observation of others? What about writing from other peoples experiences?
Like many writers, I am a people watcher who can be both distant and empathetic towards my subject. During my decade long stint in the “other people’s problems” business I accumulated an extensive and diverse catalog of other people’s emotional baggage that’s kept my writing well versed in human behavior. And of course there is the over thirty year diet of TV watching, movie watching, book reading and music rolling around like loose candy in my piñata head.
The fact is, I have relied heavily on this 'observers' stockpile to bring life to many of my characters and very little of my own personal plights. And for some reason I have yet to define, I feel as if I have cheated my writing in some way. That I haven't 'bled' for my writing.
Anyone feel this way? Do you use writing as a therapists couch or a working amalgam of the things you have seen around you? Maybe both? Do you have to 'bleed' for your writing to have it have heart?
I wrote this about a month after my own father’s death, two years ago. I think it was the first time I wrote something so close to home. The very first time I felt like I bled for a story.
This bit was from my Jericho Fan Fiction Chapters Series, the last chapter out of 22. Another example of my favorite mistake--TWO POV's in one scene. Jake (the MC) is in a dream talking with his dead father, Johnston. It's sort of a 'coming to terms' and a good bye.
A deep bark of a laugh rose from Johnston Green’s chest while he smiled at his son.
“You know you’ll get some stuff right, too? When you do it will make all the wrongs worth the gray hairs. I know that from my own personal experience.”
Jake looked up and gave his father a slight grin.
“You’ll do good, son. Might even get a little more right than your old man did.”
Jake watched his father smile and felt his heart pull. His mind was spinning trying to take in all that was said tonight. He wanted to remember this moment, when his eyes opened and this dream came to a end.
If only his father could be with him again, not in this world of dreams and memories, but with him like he had once been. In that moment, Jake wished more than anything, to take his father with him. To take Johnston Green back over the great divide.
“I miss you, Dad.”
Johnston reached out to his son’s cheek and watched the younger man swallow down emotion.
The elder Green gladly acknowledged the man his son had become, but right then the father in him could only see the young boy he’d once been. He saw that naked honesty in his son’s soulful eyes and not the stubborn silence that took him in the teen years. He saw his son’s limitless courage and heart, things that life’s circumstances never took from Jake, only buried for a time to be found once more. It seemed to Johnston, that in some strange way his son had finally come full circle. Back to his family, back to himself, back to life. It’s all he could have asked for.
“I’ll always be with you, son.” His words deep and warm. “Always.”