On Writing: Digging Through My Attic

In the aftermath of NaNoWriMo and its 30 days of death-march writing, I’ve had a bit of drop.  Big events and big projects to that to me.  I’m starting to come out of the post-creative pit with new ideas and new energies.  One thing that is very clear after writing 52,000 words is that I could use a bit of learning in the craft of story writing.  I believe I write good characters and have a knack for short stories, but longer stories take a bit more work and, frankly, I’m intimidated.  In response to that, I’ve been reading and researching story writing techniques, hoping to add tools to my writer’s tool-belt.

While learning about archetypal characters and story structure, I’ve been rummaging through the attic of my own personal stories and mapping characters and events to these structures and roles I’m learning about.  For example, the past few days have been about finding pivotal, point-of-no-return events in my life, the kind of events that drive characters, and stories, forward.  Since we all have to write what we know, I figured it was important to see my personal stories through this lens.  I put out a call, internally, and the results have been popping up at odd moments during the day.  And let me tell you, I have a lot of material to draw from.

Today, I’ve been considering one of my characters and thinking about the reasons he might have for making the life changing decision to leave his home town behind without much word to anyone.  I’ve come up with a couple of possible scenarios, I’m sure more will come to me as I let my brain squirrels work in the background.  One of the scenarios I came up with gave me pause.  For my character, I’m looking at it from the perspective of the person hurt by a certain set of actions and decisions, but in my own life, I’ve also been on the acting and deciding side of that scenario.  If I choose to use that scenario, I might never be able to separate my own feelings of guilt from that turning point in the character’s life.

But I’ll probably use it anyway, because it’s hard and honest and something that others can relate to.  In a recent post, Sassafras Lowrey talks about some important and timely advice  given ze got with regard to Roving Pack:   “This is your time to edge play. Write the most dangerous story you can.”   Dangerous could be revealing your own secrets or revealing others’ secrets.  Dangerous could be opening up and exposing the ugly, sensitive, fearful, shameful moments in your life, either through memoir or fiction.   Dangerous is whatever you’re afraid to write, because you fear the reaction — internally or from others.  Dangerous is exactly where we have to go, as writers, to get the good stuff.  Because we all have those hidden, private, secret, minefield-protected memories.  Good writing can allow readers to relate to the characters, even from perspectives they’d rather not examine closely.  Good writing can even allow readers to exorcise demons, by living through the character’s exorcism.  And yeah, I have that kind of ambition, so I’ve got to probe and find my edges and face my fears.

This process of digging through my memory boxes and sorting through the artifacts I find is showing me that I’m certainly not always the hero of the story.  Sometimes I’m the villain, sometimes the victim, sometimes through actions, other times through inaction.  I haven’t always made choices that I’m proud of now.  I hope, pray, that those I have loved and love now will find it in their hearts to forgive me for using elements of our stories together to further the stories of my fictional characters.  This is edge play, but if I go further, if I really go deep into my past, if I tell you my true story, with all the potential fall out that would bring… that’s more than edge play, that’s diving off the edge without a parachute.  I want to be brave, I want to follow Sassafras’ lead.   And I will.  Someday.

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