I’m a substitute teacher when I’m not writing and trying to get a non-profit organization off the ground. While I don’t have any children of my own, my niece and nephew have played a large part in my life. The stories are endless. It’s occurred to me recently, between stories of these munchkins, stories from traveling the United States alone in my VW Beetle, and stories from owning a bar and working as a 911 dispatcher, life has presented me with a wealth of experiences to pull from. I use them every day when I’m writing fiction.
I was just having this conversation with someone today about pulling from life in one’s writing. In my most recent manuscript, the main character experiences taking a shower for the first time. She’s newly human and doesn’t see what all the fuss is about. When my niece took a shower for the first time, it took me nearly an hour to coax her out. “Not yet Auntie,” was the new phrase as she shakes her hands at me, eyes still closed, head tipped down, as water is showering down on her. We used to have “bath-tub, bath-tub time” but now it’s “Auntie I a shower please,” instead. I channeled that moment, the serene look on her little face, and the joy that crosses it every time she asks to take a shower when my character showers for the first time.
Writing is all about pulling from our own life experiences. As Stephen King would say, write what you know. If you know about a specific area, then you use it. Draw from personal experiences to make your story come to life.
When I was four years old I had a conversation with my mother that plays in my mind like it happened yesterday. It was shortly before my younger sister Mel was born and we’d been talking about what to name my new baby sister.
Me: Why did you name me Miranda? (I remember spitting the name out like poison)
Mom: Well Miranda, we were going to name you Ariel but we couldn’t think of a middle name that went with it. With Miranda, we had one picked out.
Me: WHAT!? Why didn’t you name me Ariel? That’s a way better name mom. You could have called me Ariel Mermaid, duh! (The valley girl sass coming out of my mouth was pre-90s but I nailed it.)
My mother, to this day, won’t let me live it down. To be completely fair, I would demand to watch The Little Mermaid at least four or five times a day. I actually wore one copy of the VHS tape out, split red cool-aid on another, and in fear of a little broken heart my mother went out and bought extras.
Fast forward nearly 30 years.
My Nephew: I’m Ariel Mermaid, I’m Ariel Mermaid! She’s sooo cute. (He’d smile and hold his hands together at his cheek. He was and still is in love with Ariel.)
His Grandma: You’re sure you don’t want to be King Triton or Prince Eric?
My Nephew: Nope, I’m Ariel Mermaid.
I’m pretty sure that Karma hit me square on the back. My niece and nephew, him in particular, love The Little Mermaid. I foolishly put it on in a nostalgic moment of weakness, thinking that they might sit through 20 minutes of it so that I could drink a cup of coffee in peace. Then they demand for weeks to watch it at every free moment. If given the opportunity I believe they would put it on permanent repeat.
There was a day last year when my niece wouldn’t take a nap. Most of the time she reads to herself and eventually passes out. But this particular day she was not laying down. I’m in the next room when I hear what sounds like 2 year old opera. This isn’t so surprising as she developed an instant love for Andrea Bocelli when I played her a video. I walked into her bedroom and she has both arms draped over the sides of her crib, chest out, head back, and she was singing the Ahhh Ahhh Ahhh moment when Ursala bargains for Ariel’s voice. I wish that I’d walked in with my phone on record.
While I don’t have a use for this story quite yet in my fiction, some day I will pull from it, glad to have the pool of experiences to utilize for my story-telling needs. Until then I’ll share what I know about writing while getting to tell a funny story at the same time.