Wednesday, November 17, 2010

From Life Comes Fiction

Thanks to Sharon, Monday started a little brighter. If you missed her post about her close encounters of the spider kind, scroll on down to read her hilarious story. But you better empty your bladder first.

At the end of Sharon's post, she suggested her experiences may become part of a story. I believe all fiction is at least part autobiographical. According to John Truby (Anatomy of Fiction), the theme is how the author believes the world should work. Right there you have deep personal involvement of the author in her story. But that's a topic for another day.

Our lives do seep into our stories--in language, what our characters value, and the details of life that allow our readers to suspend disbelief. My youngest son once said, "Mom, it's a little weird to see parts of my life in someone else's story." True but family life is too rich to not use.

While I don't use personal experiences verbatim, I certainly draw on my life experiences--but only when it's more interesting than usual, like Sharon's beasts. Almost always, anything from life has to be cranked up a notch to make it story worthy. (Before I forget, here's my pitch to keep a journal handy at all times. You never know when Spider Wars will commence.)

Here's an example of how a piece of my life made it into one of my books. In my Garden Gate series, Mibby is left a widow with a young son and an unfinished remodeling project. I know remodeling well. We've lived in our house for 24 years, and, well, I watch too much HGTV. This was a natural cross-over.

A few years back, we added on a master bathroom. I made sure I was showered and dressed each day of the project before 8 AM when the contractor and his minions arrived. I was running late one morning, but it was only 7:45, so I jumped in the shower. I had just worked up a lather of shampoo when I heard male voices outside the bathroom door.


My primal brain reacted quickly. I stepped out of the shower without rinsing or drying and stepped into my clothes, naked no more! I stood like a post, praying HARD the men would finish their business and go away. God, oh so graciously, answered my prayer within minutes. The contractor left with the subcontractor moments later.

Take note: I did not have to write this situation down. It was burned into my wee little brain, and I showered, from then on, by seven.

Back to Like a Watered Garden--when Droop (protag's contractor named for his low-slung jeans) needed to talk to Mibby (I know, another weird name), here's how my experience morphed into in Mibby's world:

I had just worked the shampoo into a lather when I heard the heavy rapping of knuckles on the bathroom door and a male voice calling my name. I turned off the water to listen.

"Is that you, Mibby? I'm back."

Suds flowed down my forehead. With my eyes closed, I stepped out of the shower and pulled on my shorts and T‑shirt before I felt decent enough to answer him. "Uh, Droop, I'll be out in a minute."

"I don't need nothing," he said. "I just didn't want to scare you again."

The shampoo stung my eyes. "Thanks, Droop. Thanks very much."

"No problem." His heavy boots moved away from the door and then returned. "Mibby?"


"We got a problem with the flooring."

A bubble of worry tingled along my spine. Whenever Droop had a problem, he fixed it and continued working. If we had a problem, it meant I would be spending a lot of money. Either way, I wasn't dressed to kill, or to think.

"I'll be right down."

People I know and love--or watch in restaurants--also make it into my stories. My sweet friend, Nancy, is the basis for Louise in the Garden Gate series. I gave Louise a Louisiana drawl and shaped her like an orange, but her heart is all Nancy.

I taught with Nancy. She made it her mission to slow me down and love me like crazy. One day, she stopped me in the hall (no kids around) and turned her back to me. With a twinkle in her eye, she looked over her shoulder and nodded to her bum. She asked, "Do these pants make my butt seem too small?" You can see how someone like Nancy needed to be fictionalized.

These are pretty "light" examples. Most of my books address some burning question or fear I'm wrestling in real life, yet another topic for another day. How has your life made it into your stories? Tell us how you've drawn from the people you know to develop characters?


Wendy Paine Miller said...

Love that question--does my butt look too small?!

And I do some of my best thinking when I'm "dresssed like that." (In the shower.) ;)

I've tapped into my feelings as a parent and sibling often--the certain affections I feel for my sisters, watching them endure certain things and the same for witnessing my children going through certain events (like how specific I'm being this morning?) I think it's time for a shower.

~ Wendy

Latayne C Scott said...

Here's my real-life example that became part of Latter-day Cipher:

She decided impulsively to share the secret of her own shooting accuracy with him.

“Actually, I’m pretty good,” she admitted. “I wouldn’t win any trophies—“ she gestured around – “but I because I know my failings and how to compensate for them, I usually hit well.”

“What do you mean?”

She hesitated, made sure she was smiling before she answered. “Well, I always use the targets that look like a person.”

He nodded: Go on.

“And I know that when I fire, I pull up and to the right.”

She put her hands up, aiming outside the window at an imaginary target, swinging her aim up with a fishhook motion. She continued to smile, but dropped her gaze.

“So – I aim for the crotch; and if I miss, I get the heart.”

Luke winced. The bark-burst of his laughter was from the innermost reaches of his stomach.

“Remind me not to mess with you if you’re carrying!” he said when he caught his breath.

Lynn Dean said...

Love this! It explains why theme is the first element in place when I start to write. Theme is what I'm trying to convey. Otherwise, what's the point of writing, eh?

I love drawing from real life, usually for scenes where my characters have some sort of epiphany. God so often uses life to teach me, so my characters tend to draw their life lessons from the same source.

Patti Hill said...

Wendy: Family is rich with possibilities. We are emotionally bound to these folks. You're so right. When they hurt, we hurt. We watch them struggle, live despite crippling foibles, and celebrate triumphs. It's good stuff.

Latayne: Uh, honey, are you a trained to use that weapon?

Lynn: I love Truby's take on theme. Yep, we start with who we are and how we view the world.

Anonymous said...

Patti, I laughed so hard at the image of you stepping out of the shower, hair and body unrinsed, and jumping into clothes. But I'd have done the same thing, with one exception. I'm sure I'd have first jumped out of my skin!

I get many of my characters from the people I'm closest to. I don't often use real examples, but I am in my WIP. I'm using nearly exact conversations between my 3-year-old grandson Jayden and his mom, dad, me, whoever. He's hilarious. He recently had a time out for being mean to his baby sister Abbie. When Mindy asked what is was going to take for him to be nice to her, he replied, "Um, five more minutes."

Patti Hill said...

It's lovely you have Jaden to be such a great model for child-like dialogue. They just don't see the world like we do. As always, can't wait to read your WIP, Sharon.

MandyB said...

My first novel was the result of an arguement with my other half. I wanted to have my own space (he has his!!) and the negative responce got me to thinking, why don't men & women live in separate camps?
Anyway from that snippet the story grew into a novel length manuscript which is now out at publishers.
We can all draw from our lives and its experiences either directly encountered or gleamed from another source. To use these events and mold them into a work of fiction makes us writers. It is our art, our creation.

Patti Hill said...

Mandy, your novel sounds interesting. Keep us posted!

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Latayne, my burning question is, how exactly is this a real-life example? Are you secretly a gun-wielding crotch-shooter in between book projects? ;)

And Patti, great story. I constantly pick-pocket from real life for my books, mostly on the emotional level. I love observing human interactions (makes me sound like I'm an alien) and stashing away trinkets of insight into motivation and behaviour. Little facets of me make it into every single one of my characters - I guess cos I understand myself best, and it helps me to understand them. Also, my protag's boyfriend bears a strange resemblance to my husband.

Anyone seen the writers' T-shirt that says, "Careful or you'll end up in my novel"? Just saw another recently that reads, "Please do not annoy the writer. She may put you in a book and kill you." (Latayne, that one's for you.)

Patti Hill said...

Karen, love "pickpocket from my own life." As for Latayne, only she can answer that question.

Kathleen Popa said...

"She may put you in a book and kill you... or worse."

Just when I get over the frightened little spider cowering in the darkest corner of Sharon's brown purse while she pounds away with her broom, now I've got this picture of Latayne, the gun-wielding crotch shooter. Have any of you heard her speak? She never raises her voice, is always a lady. So I can hear her saying, oh so softly and reasonably, “I aim for the crotch; and if I miss, I get the heart.” It'll take me days to get over that one.

Mandy, I've finally got my own office, and yes, every woman should have a room of her own.

Kathleen Popa said...

Mom, Patti said [Expletive!]

Bonnie Grove said...

I wrote a novel titled Talking to the Dead.
I avoid answering questions like, "Which parts of the novel are adapted from your life?"

You so don't want to know. Trust me.

Anonymous said...

It actually happened. My husband bought a gun and took me to an indoor shooting range to show me how to use it. The air in that place reeked of testosterone, and the two guys behind the counter treated me like a dumb blonde as I asked questions about the targets. I chose a man-shaped one.

When we returned with our targets, mine were clustered dead center of the chest. One of the men who'd dissed me before asked me if that was my target. I told him yes, and then said, "Wanna know my secret?"
He said yes.
Then I looked him in the eye and said......
"I figured out that I pull up and to the right. So I aimed for the crotch and when I missed, I hit the heart."

It really did happen that way.

Latayne C Scott said...

OOOh. That last comment was from me, Latayne.

And there was silence in that gun range as we left.

Kathleen Popa said...

Well that's a relief. I though there were two of you out there.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

LOL - Latayne, that's gold!

And Bonnie, I so DO want to know! Mentally raking through my copy of Talking to the Dead right now. Could it be that as well as a gun-wielding crotch shooter, this group of mild mannered authors also boasts a bonafide crazy woman who talks to dead people? Te he. LOVE you writers. :)

Chris Jager - Baker Book House-fiction buyer said...

Okay you all are crazy and I love you for it. Thank you for making my day/week. People here at the store are looking at me funny as I crack up about all your stories. Latayne I am a bit shocked by your shooting story. :-)
I also have those moments that I think, that should be in a book. Maybe someday. ;-)

Chris Jager - Baker Book House-fiction buyer said...

By the way just kidding about Latayne thing. There is a lady that shops regularly at our store who is packing heat (as they say) every time she comes in. She let us know she has it even though she doesn't have to by law here in Michigan.
She is the nicest lady, but is as tough as nails. She was robbed at gun point one time and vowed to never be a victim again. So she has a gun and a very large dog. Interesting.

Latayne C Scott said...

Chris, lotsa people say they're just kidding about the Latayne thing.

I'm currently shopping for a very large dog myself.

(*smothered laughter*)

Anonymous said...

Latayne, I had Rick take me to an indoor shooting range a few years ago when I was writing a suspense novel. I didn't do quite as well as you, but I hit my target more than once. It was fun. I loved it. I've gone skeet shooting with him too, but it's been years. Just call us Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane. I'm Jane. Wish I could sing like Doris Day : )

Anonymous said...

Oh, and our 2-year-old granddaughter Abbie, she's always running around the house with a purse slung over her arm ... and a gun inside. Always a gun inside. It's hilarious.

Lenore Buth at said...

Thanks, everybody, for the long laugh session. Today I needed that. I'll smile every time I picture that exchange at the gun range. Wish you had the visual to go with it.

God bless -- Lenore