Most of the time I think we write what we experience. I’m not talking memoir or travel logging but about pure fiction. We take our lives, or we take the antithesis of it, and write about it. We write about the emotions in them, the struggles, the victories, the conclusions we come to. I don’t think this is done consciously, but I think our stories are formed by what we have lived.
But, is it possible that occasionally we live something so that we can write about it better? Four years ago I was writing a trauma that I had never endured myself. I wrote it with imagination, transfer of emotion, and empathy. A few weeks later I live the experienced. I remember being in the ER and saying–see I wrote about it, now I’m living it.
In my current wip I’m at a point where my MC thinks her children are in danger of having a genetic disease that is at the best life changing, and may very well result in mortality. I was writing the emotions of a mom who thinks her kids may die.
We had a great weekend with the holidays, and my daughter turned six on Sunday. It was a wonderful celebration. On Monday, I was rocking my toddler to nap while my elder ones played in the backyard. I will not outline the events but it led to me finding this same 6 year-old caught in the climbing rope of our tree fort, hanging by her neck, mouth agape, not breathing, feet flaying. She was fine, I got there in time, but I’m still walking around with that image glued to my retina. And do you know what my first reaction was? Anger. Vivid white blinding anger. I wanted to kill her. How dare she do something so stupid. It was followed by calm, and then by shock as it hit me that we had almost lost our daughter.
In my scene the mom only hints at anger. It wasn’t all-consuming. It was fleeting, replaced almost spontaneously by anxiety. I see from my experience how inaccurate I was when I wrote that scene. And I can’t help but ask if it happened because of what I was writing about? I know it’s totally loopy, but this is not a new idea–stories coming to life, characters landing in their novels, people living at the mercy of an author.
The truth is, I know it’s about circumstances: I’m a mom writing about a mom. A mother’s fears are great motivating factors, they provide high stakes, are easy to relate to, and given that I have 3 children I’m bound to experience some of this duress. We were lucky, there was no medical procedures needed, no resuscitation necessary–we were a shaken family with one of us badly scrapped up on her torso and raspy lungs for a few minutes. That’s all. Thank god. But, it really changes everything, brings about a different perspective that inevitably lands directly in my writing.
How about you: Have you ever written a fictional event that you ended up experiencing in real life?