So we all have plenty of life experiences. Even a writer just out of high school – even a writer still IN high school – has had plenty of life experiences. Most of us tend to have experiences in certain sub-sets of reality, though. Our immediate family – large or small, nuclear or extended. Our immediate neighborhood – rich or poor, warm climate or cool. Our schools, our friends, our part of the country. As we get older, our experiences expand, but nobody can experience _everything_, and some emotional experiences, like living through great joy or great tragedy, are not things that can be deliberately sought out.
A lot of people will say to “write what you know” and there’s a certain amount of truth to that, I suppose – but if we all only wrote what we knew, there would be an awful lot of awfully boring novels out there (not to mention the total extinction of several popular genres of fiction). We put our characters into situations and into relationships that we’d never tolerate for ourselves, or maybe wouldn’t even survive… Or would we? Would we surprise ourselves?
Would we want to?
These are the things that authors need to think about; these are the things I was thinking about recently. How would my adult character have looked at this past event two years earlier? Five years? Ten years? How would a child’s perception of a disturbing, or even horrific, event, change over the years?
I don’t know, first hand; I haven’t had any events in my own life that rise to that level of emotional impact. Not that my total failure, as a ten year old, to talk on the phone to a boy I liked didn’t _feel_ like an epic disaster at the time…
One place I sometimes find interesting insights is advice columns. Not from the answers; the answers tend to be fairly predictable after you’ve read a few of them, and most are fairly PC. But the questions… Some of the questions are fascinating.
Sometimes the authors of the questions are clearly just looking for affirmation that they’re in the right; sometimes they are truly unsure. But even as you shake your head, thinking, “I would never…” you realize that for the author, this is genuinely what they feel. (Most of the time, and I suspect advice columnists get pretty good at spotting phonies after a while.) And that frequently gives me someplace to start, a different head-space to put myself into.
What are your favorite sources for inspiration about situations beyond your own experiences?