Thursday, April 17, 2008

Fuel for the Story Engine

Brass Steam Engine

Do you keep notes? I don't mean like taking notes from lectures or research, but just every day stuff. In other words, do you carry around a notebook and jot things down, like a particular way you feel in single moment of time, or how the afternoon sun creates long shadows and takes you back to when you were a kid playing kick-the-can in the street, or the time your grandmother came riding up the driveway on her new bike and couldn't figure out how the brakes worked.

This is all day-to-day stuff, but some things strike us stronger than others and plant themselves in the memory centers of our brains. It's all grist for the story-mill.

I always delude myself into believing I'll remember stuff. Oh, yeah, who could ever forget the day … Uh, well, I forgot. Or how about the time my son was on his skateboard and, uh, oops. Another lost memory.

I'm not an organized person. Some people think in linear patterns, with neat little folders filed in alpha or numerical order inside their heads. Me? My thought process is more like a collage.

So I'm finally starting to write stuff down. Where I end up storing it is another question for another post. I think in colors and pictures, then translate them through words so that I can use them. My recall is mostly visual.

I was visiting with a writer friend yesterday, a morning coffee date (2 hours!) spent talking about everything writing-related, including her new book coming out this September. She's not a genre writer. She writes literary fiction, which I'm very curious about. Her stories aren't so much plot as they are character pastiches, so I asked her how she came up with her stories.

She bases them, in part, on people she's known and worked with, not one them a member of her family. She admits to not being a social person, but she's an observant one and everyone who's interesting stands to become fuel to drive her story engine. Though she doesn’t use her family in her fiction, her adult daughter claims her latest book has a lot of their family in it. This floored my friend because for one thing, there are no family units as such in her book. But elements here and there were subconsciously taken from her life and put in the story. I think that's very cool.

There's so much good stuff to take from real life. My husband is a good example. I could create a dozen different characters from him alone. One character based on just him would never be believable. You know what they say about truth and fiction.

Do you use bits of real life in your stories? Do you write them down in a log or journal? Are any of your characters fashioned out of people you know? Or parts of people you know?


Patricia Tanner said...

Interesting blog, Karen.

Do you use bits of real life in your stories? Do you write them down in a log or journal? Are any of your characters fashioned out of people you know? Or parts of people you know?

Yes, I use bits of real life in my stories. It's the only way I can make them real. I don't write them down in a journal. Most come from memories. Meaning they are what I remember and not exactly as it happened. ;) I think every writer uses bits and pieces of people they live with or meet in their lifetime to manufacture the characters in our stories.

I know the second romance I wrote the heroine came from a girl I saw at a volleyball tournament. Her face, hair, and the way she carried herself just cried out to me to make her a heroine. And I did and I love that heroine and the editor who read the book loved her- unfortunately the plot stunk! and the hero had no GMC. But they are both characters I would like to resurrect one day.

Alice Sharpe said...

I'm like Patricia in that I store things in my memory and then use them and they probably don't resemble what really happened at all. But the essence is there hopefully, and the meaning.

I do have a journal or I used to before I lost it. I filled it with notes and you could go through my books by looking through the pages of the journal. Sketches, ideas, details, etc... but not really a journal of impressions like you are talking about. I wish I thought of things visually as you do. That always sounds so neat.

I use parts of real people in my books but twisted up and jumbled so no one character is really like a real person. Come to think of it, though, why not? I guess because if I used my father, for example, as a character, there would inevitably be some characteristic of his that didn't work and I'd tweak him. But every thing we know about people we learned from the people we meet, right? Or read about or see in a film?

Just rambling here, lots of interesting things to think about. Thanks...

Karen Duvall said...

That's so cool, Patricia, that you were able to create a whole character just from seeing one girl at a volleyball tournament. Talk about observant! Wow!

Karen Duvall said...

Art imitates life, huh, Alice? 8^) That's so true. We have no choice but to draw upon our own experiences to help us create our stories. There are just so many of them that I often get overwhelmed. I wonder what it would be like to be hypnotized just for the purpose of recollection. Say, I want to remember only those events in my life when I experienced true joy. Or conversely, I want to recall the saddest day of my life. Some people can draw up those memories like water from a well, but it's not so easy for me. I have to work at it.

I wonder how many people draw their characters based on other characters, like from movies and TV. Visually we do, as we've shared here in past blogs (i.e. celebrities). But how often do we borrow ideas from other creative sources? I'm sure I've done a bit of that subconsciously, though I can't think of anything specific.

Thanks, Patricia and Alice, for sharing your thoughts. 8^)