Question: How do you write authentic fiction?
Answer: Draw on personal experiences to create authentic experiences and emotions for your characters.
Use the joyous occasions in your life to inform the joyous occasions in the lives of your characters.
Personal grief can also aid you in writing believable scenes of mourning for your characters.
Anything you can experience as a flesh-and-blood human being can be incorporated into the experiences of fictional characters.
All of that is summed up in the oft-repeated advice to “write what you know.”
But you don’t need to limit yourself to things you’ve experienced personally. What if you’re writing a suspense novel about a stalker? How do you do that convincingly?
Sometime ago, I was reading a blog post or listening to a podcast–it’s been so long ago now that I don’t remember–as someone addressed this very issue. Since my favorite genre is mystery (reading and writing), I perked up my ears and paid attention.
The story goes something like this.
Imagine you’re trying to get something done. It’s very important and demands your utmost attention. But there’s a fly constantly buzzing around your head. Distracting you. Annoying you.
You have two choices. Save the work for later or get rid of the fly.
The work Must Be Done, so the fly has to go. There’s just no two ways about it.
But the moment you make that decision, the fly disappears. You sit down again, the fly comes back (admit it, you know how flies are.) Finally, you reach your limit. This is war! You won’t stop until that fly is toast.
If you’re anything like me, you pursue that fly until you’ve achieved your objective–no more fly–and then you return to the important work.
From a House Fly to Fiction
Are you going to let that experience go to waste? Didn’t you just decide to write about a stalker?
Stop right now.
Think back to how you felt as you stalked that fly. What were you thinking? What sorts of tactics did you plan? Did you talk to the fly? Threaten it, cajole it, speak to it in “here kitty-kitty-kitty” terms?
What was your reaction when you finally got the fly? A loud woo-hoo? A happy dance or a quiet sense of satisfaction?
It may bring a chuckle to think of getting a fly in those terms, but if you’re writing about a stalker, your stalker character is going to be doing pretty much the same things to his victim that you did to the fly, from threats to sweet talk.
For however long it took to put an end to the nuisance of a fly, you had the same mindset a stalker of human beings has.
You were just as focused.
You were just as satisfied when the fly was gone, too.
All you have to do is examine those thoughts and feelings, then amplify them through the written word. Make them more intense. Make them more sustained. Make them more.
Quite often, all you’ll have to do to make a start is change the target from a house fly to the girl next door or to the fellow in the cubicle across the hall. After all, a lot of the tension that happens in fiction comes not from the actions themselves but from the target toward which those actions are directed. Stop and think about it. How heinous is stalking another person, but stalking a fly? No big deal.
The wonderful part about this little saga is that it applies to good things as well as bad.
Even better, most situations we experience lend themselves equally well to positives as well as to negatives. Just think back on the most momentous occasion you’ve ever experienced. You can sort out positive emotions and events AND negative ones, can’t you?
Life is full of triumphs and tragedies. So should fiction be. Draw on the vast reservoir of life experiences to create authentic fiction.
And if you have to, stalk a fly!