Something major happened to me recently. Life-changing major. I lost a parent by choice, not by death. There was a tremendous amount of drama leading up to the culmination, much like Act II leading up to the black moment in our novels. After the “incident” which took almost six months to play out, the obsessive thinking began. “They should never have… Why did they… I’m so upset about…” etc. Since this event coincided with the outlining of book 4 in my Distant Edge Series I couldn’t keep it from crossing into my thoughts. Before I knew it, a big part of the book’s drama revolved around my character’s issue with her parent. I added similar lines spoken by my family members because quite frankly – they sound crazy, I couldn’t make this $#it up and they make convincing characters.
Looking back on my first three novels in the series, which are already written and will be published starting in May 2017 – I found that my antagonist was completely based on the family member attached to the parent I lost. The character uses modified phrases that this person has spoken to me. Her personality in my books mirrors that of the personality she has shown me for the past thirty years.
Why do this? First of all – sometimes it can’t be helped. Things that are going on in our subconscious comes out in our writing. Secondly – it’s cathartic. It helps us make sense of events, personalities and confusion in our own worlds. Thirdly – and most importantly – it makes for great well-rounded antagonists or protagonists, depending on how people in our lives have treated us.
I received book 2 back from my editor a couple of weeks ago and her comments elicited so much emotion I started to cry (with happiness). She found conflict and motivation within my protagonist that I didn’t even know I had written. This is where our true-life events come out. We can completely fictionalize them and keep the gist or we can use actual events and what people have said to us, changing their names of course.
Everyone’s heard “you write what you know” which is true but we also write “who we know”. Therefore I encourage you to turn all of those wrongs in your past into rights. If you can’t change what happened or the hurt someone has caused you, use it in your book. Turn those meanies into antagonists. Turn their insanity and self-righteous, thoughtless behavior into the conflict your protagonist must overcome. Take the crazy words they have spoken to you, change them a little, and make it part of your antagonist’s dialogue. Not only will this make you feel so much better, it will lend authenticity to your characters. However it is important for your antagonist to believe that what they are doing (their motivation) is right, no matter how heinous it is. Otherwise they’ll read like a cartoon villain. Think of this as a way to process while staying true to your art form. And, it’s probably best not to tell the people who have wronged you that you’ve made them into bad guys in your books. You don’t want to be sued for liable or defamation of character.
Written by: Chloe Adler
Sometimes writing is like being in a trance. How else can it be explained? When people have experiences, like taking the kids to the zoo for the first time or falling in love; we remember them. We may even remember what our lover was wearing the first time we laid eyes on him or her. We may remember how they wore their hair, what jewelry they had on and even what they said. The emotions we felt and some of their physical aspects are burned into our memories like a hot poker or more apropos, like a brand.
For me, writing is the opposite of that. Many times I write a scene, a chapter or even an entire novel and then I re-read it and have no recollection of writing it. I noticed this strange phenomenon starting with my first novel a few years back.
Last month I was re-reading a scene I’d written a week or two earlier. As I was reading it I actually gasped and said aloud… “He’s adopted?” The two writers in my writer’s group looked up quizzically because they both knew I was reading my own work. Then they laughed.
I asked, “Do you guys ever forget what you write?”
They responded with, “Sure sometimes, but not key elements like that.”
In my defense even though I’d plotted this book, I’ve allowed myself a lot of leeway. I may know the GMC (goal, motivation, conflict) going into each scene but I may not know how that’s achieved until it happens. So in this particular scene my secondary character, the hero, suddenly announced that he was adopted. This happened close to the end of the second act, not at the beginning of the manuscript. And thus, I had forgotten and was shocked to re-discover the bump. Plus, so much about his character and choices earlier in the book suddenly made sense.
Even more recently I was writing a scene, the one before “the black moment” and during it I got really bored. I don’t have to point out that this is not a good sign. I stopped writing and thought about it for a few days. Suddenly a quick fix came to me but I didn’t think out the details. Instead I sat down to write and the details blossomed beneath my fingertips. I still have no idea how the correct words “came to me”. Maybe that’s called “being in the zone”.
Pay attention to that - those moments when it feels like you’re reading someone else’s book even though you wrote it. That’s a delicious place to be.
By Chloe Adler