When fiction becomes reality

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?

16 thoughts on “When fiction becomes reality

  1. Wow, that makes me think about the movie Stranger Than Fiction. I feel like fiction comes from some form of the truth, just altered. I haven’t experiened an event that I was currently writing about, but I do find the things that I’m going through end up in my writing. For example, I lost both of my parents when I was young so majority of my characters are parentless.

    I’m glad nothing serious happened with your daughter though.

    I’ll appreciate it if you checked out my blog http://janachantel.com/ it’s about me trying to become a successful published author. Be sure to check out my latest posts “The Rebel” http://janachantel.com/2012/04/03/the-rebel/ and “And the Journey Continues” http://janachantel.com/2012/04/10/and-the-journey-continues/. And please feel free to follow!

    1. Hi Jana, yes I too thought of Stranger than fiction, and there’s also that Johnny Depp movie where he buries his wife (?) outside the house. There are few of them out there.
      Our reality certainly is tied in with our fiction.
      Good luck with your work.

  2. OMG, Jennifer, that was a horrible experience! I’m so glad to hear you got there in time. Something similar happened to one of my granddaughters when she was three, only it was the cord on a venetian blind.

    I’ve become superstitious about what I write. That’s why I never name a character after someone in my family (at least not intentionally). Years ago, I wrote a story about an elderly woman lying in bed before dawn, thinking about her life with her husband. In the end, it revealed that her husband had died and the woman plaintively cries out to ask him why he left her. Then, a few years later, after my father died my mother told me that she was having a hard time sleeping and would lay there thinking just such thoughts. In tears, she ended by saying, “Why did he leave me alone?” It gave me a chill.

    I know the situation in my story is commonplace, but still. Now, every time I write pf a bad situation, I wonder if I’m “jinxing” something. I wonder why I don’t wonder the opposite when I write of a fantastic situation? Hmmm.

    1. ahhhh, Linda, 2 chilling stories you told here. I’m glad your little granddaughter was ok. That must have been so sad and eerie to hear your mom tell you what you had essentially wrote about. I admit, I am also a little superstitious about what I write. Like, for example, in my current wip a child dies, and I changed the age of the child so that it wouldn’t be similar to my kids, but that’s partly because if it’s too close to home it’s just too difficult to write about. I can’t write a coherent story if I’m overwhelmed.
      Thanks for sharing.

  3. Hi, really sorry to hear about all your traumatic experiences. Sounds really horrifying.

    No, I haven’t really noticed a link between writing something and a similar event happening later,
    Hope all is okay with your writing, Lawrence

    1. Thank you, Lawrence.
      Hmmm, I guess that in some ways you’re really lucky there’s been no correlation. I wonder if that will ever change…
      Happy writing 🙂

  4. OMG, Jenn I’m so relieved that your daughter is alright. Whew! I had heart palpitations just reading that!
    I do want to put forth an argument to your comment about the so-called ‘inaccuracy’ of the feelings of your MC. Everybody reacts differently in certain situations, so your MC’s reaction wasn’t necessarily wrong, just not the same as yours.
    Although in hindsight, maybe your experience happened for a reason. Maybe your MC’s feelings were destined to change for the enhancement of your story?! The world certainly works in mysterious ways.

    1. Thank you, Nisha. I admit, my family is still talking about it…we were super lucky, thank god.

      I agree with what you are saying, I even thought about it, but I sort of figured it’s like the stages of grief, I think as a species we’re pretty mapped out. That said, I’m sure others would react different than I did. I did go return to that section and I adjusted and I think it’s stronger for it. But, I do hope we don’t need to experiences these horrifying events to write about them!!

      1. Oh I hope not too! Sorry I just realised that that comment might have come across wrongly. No child should ever experience suffering like that for any reason. But as with any experience, it would be a blessing if you turned it into something positive…

  5. Terrifying! I’m glad your daughter is OK.

    My manuscript “Julia” opens with the aftermath of a plane crash…a plane that took off from Lexington, KY. A few years after I had written the idea and stored it in a drawer a plane did crash taking off from Lexington. I was far enough removed from it that I didn’t re-evaluate a personal reaction, but it startled me that the events were so similar…and stories of friends who “knew people” informed me about little I knew about crashes.

  6. That must have been a horrible experience, Jennifer. When something involves our own kids it really gets to the core of who we are, and hits home as to what lengths we’d go through if we had to.

    I can’t say that I’ve ever written about something that came to be, at least not yet. Funny though, but as I was awaiting word on Bitter, Sweet years ago, I happened to see an episode of a show in which the mother had died and her children were trying to give the appearence that she was still alive. They’d also buried her in their yard. I said to my husband, “That’s my book!” I figured at the time it would either be a good sign or a bad one. Turned out to be good. 🙂

    1. You’re right, Laura. It’s a unique reaction when our children are involved.

      That’s so funny seeing such a similar premise as your novel on tv. Goes to show what works!!

      I hope you’re doing well. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, with all that you’re going through. Blogging offers the comfort of normalcy.

  7. I very interesting concept, almost worthy of a story itself. Precognitive writing? Now I’m going to have to go back and look at my musings and see…..

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