Friday, July 30, 2010

Writing From Real Life

So, the joke goes something like this: “Be careful, or I’ll put you in my novel.”  People laugh when I say it, but I have to admit, there is a smidgen of truth to the joke.  Oh, don’t worry; when I finally break into publishing, no one is going to have to worry about me turning them into some dreadful villain in a novel, fully recognizable to all.  That would be wrong on a lot of levels, but the reality is our lives and our personalities seep into what we write.  Every experience, every person, is part of who we are, and inevitably these things wind up on the page.

We collect experiences.  That’s what life is. Our bodies and minds become vessels that catch laughter, tears, frustration, and joy.  Our parents, our siblings, our teachers and our friends are in there, along with the mean girls, the bullies, and the negativity they bring with them.  They bad stuff fights for control and sometimes, it wins.  That happens to me.  I let the bad overshadow the good; it’s one of my biggest faults and what usually happens is it takes something or someone to give me a good kick to get my mind, and my attitude, on the right track.

I wrote a short post at the beginning of the week about my recently-held class reunion.  A couple of things that happened over the course of the weekend really upset me.  I tend to be oversensitive, I know that, but usually some time and space allow my feelings to settle.  When I had time to process, I was able to put the weekend in perspective and while there is no doubt there are a couple of people I would be happy never to see again, the vast majority of it was really great.  I went to school with some unbelievably nice people. The work the organizers of the reunion did was truly appreciated and when I look back at the pictures, the smiles tell me we did a really good job.  And even though I didn't have as much fun as I could have had, the pictures don’t lie.  I did enjoy myself, and I was really glad to see my friends.  It had been too long, but it will not be that long again.

So the question is--who’s going in a book?  What experiences have I collected this time?  For those of you who thought I had too many cosmos to remember, you’re wrong. (HA!) Here’s what I have so far:

The high-school sweethearts:  I can relate to them as I have been with my husband since we were seventeen-years-old, but I think this couple has been together even longer.  She’s still beautiful, he’s still handsome and even though there were no overt displays, you can tell they are totally devoted to each other.  There were little things--mentions of what they’ve done together, their obvious pride in their children, the mutual respect they share and then there’s the way they look at each other.  I don’t know if anyone else noticed, but I did and it warmed me to see a love story still going strong after all these years.

The long-time friends:  These women have known each other since middle school, in many cases, and they’ve been through everything together--love and heartbreak; marriage and divorce; birth and death.  Their relationships aren’t perfect, but they have a deep bond that has developed over time.   There were several groups that fit into this category.  I got to know one bunch a little better as we were planning the party and the dynamic is amazing.  I’m a little envious because this isn’t my experience, and I know I’m not going to be a part of it, but it’s nice to know friendships like this are out there.

The happy guy:  He’s still happy.  Everyone still loves him and with good reason.  He sees the best in everyone.  He’s kind, has a big heart and drives a really cool truck.  When he tells you you’re awesome,  he means it.  He’s definitely going in a book. 

The really brilliant guy:  He sat near me in AP European History class all those years ago and we laughed together as our teacher talked about his dog, Tiger.  This guy has an Ivy League education, but he doesn’t have a pretentious bone in his body—he never did and he never will; he’s still friendly, still enthusiastic about everything and I hope I don’t lose touch with him again.

People I wish I'd known better in high school:  There was a woman I spent some time with whom I've been in touch with through the planning process.  We had breakfast together when she got into town and two hours flew by like it was nothing.  She's sweet, witty and has had an interesting life. New friendships are always good. (Honestly, there are a number of people who fall into this category.)

The cool gay guys:  I don’t think I have to say anything else.  What’s better than being happy with who you are?

Finally, the mean girls:  Believe it or not, the mean girls are easy. (Noooo, not that kind of easy. Well maybe they were, but that's not what I meant.)  They’ve always been vapid caricatures, and that’s what they’ll remain.  Thanks for the material ladies…you make writing a bitch a no-brainer.

I guess, when you think about it, it's not about what's going to go in a book, but instead I should be asking the question--what isn't?  There is no way I can detach myself from my life experiences.  Why would I want to?  I need the people and the emotions to keep my writing interesting.  The words on the page are just black and white, but my experiences, and the people I've known over the years, give the stories color.


  1. I can relate to this, because I write nonfiction ABOUT my life. My writing is always my life. It's weird, scary and freeing all at the same time. And I think it does apply very much to fiction, too. I've just started writing my first fiction, and I am drawing from my own life experiences to a certain degree. Not totally, but somewhat.

  2. Thanks for reading, E! So much to take in after thirty years.

  3. Great post. You're right--reunions are a terrific resource for book characters. I'm sure I've put more than a few of my old high school pals & not-pals into my books. Or conglomerations of them, anyway. ;)

    Still chuckling about your "mean girls" comment--amen! :)

  4. I love this. It's true, reunions can give us a boatload of material! Even people I currently hang out with are not safe from my keyboard!

  5. Linda, Julie...I should have brought a notebook! But I thought that might look funny. :-)

  6. Hey Jeannie,

    I love your blog. Of course my mind is racing to sort out "who might that be?" Well I know who SOME of them are ; )

    I'll be waiting for future installments!

    Joe Lee

  7. Have never been contacted about a reunion even though I graduated in '93. Is it worth it even if I am not an author who will write about the experience?

  8. Joe, I'm glad you like the post. Thanks so much for reading. E-mail me privately if you still can't figure some people out.

    Dr. G- My non-writing classmates had a wonderful time at the reunion and if you have an opportunity to go to your twentieth, I highly recommend it. As a writer, everything is fodder, because as I said experience is the thing that drives what I do, but I would have gone, and had a good time regardless. Thanks for reading.

  9. Oh, terrific post! And I'd say there is more than a smidgen of truth to this one. Ha. I use it all the time -- both the joke & experience for writing. Nice work.

  10. Such a wonderful post, Jeannie! Recently, a mother of one of my ex-boyfriends approached my mom at church, asking if any of my characters in book #1 were she or her son. Do you get this from people, too? I've noticed this woman staring at me strangely from across the isles...HMMM! Now I wonder if she has a weird secret, or if she is afraid of me bashing her son (which I would NEVER do!). It's the craziest thing I've experienced thus far, since coming out of the closet about being a writer. Now everyone looks at me differently. I wish I had a T'shirt with the opening statement of your post written across the front. This would surely turn some heads. LOL!!!

  11. Tory! Ha! I love it. Tell her she has to buy the book to find out. I have a friend who is convinced I modeled a character after her daughter in my first book...the one that didn't sell, but I didn't. In fact the character is so horrible, I don't know why she would think that! I did take a germ of truth (a group of friends who grew apart) and turn it into fiction, but that's what writers do. Oh and check this out: