Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Experience versus Imagination

I was chatting with Megan Burke yesterday ( about life versus imagination. Fantasy aside, do you need to experience the things you write about? My view - not really. You don't need to commit suicide in order to write about a character who does. You do need to imagine - try to get inside that character's skin. Megs thought that not having a lot of life experiences could be a drawback for a writer. It could be; on the other hand, from the minute we're born (and probably even before) we are in fact experiencing life. It's not experience that makes us writers, but the way we reflect upon those experiences. Every living breathing minute is fodder for story - at least, that's my opinion. What's yours?


  1. I do absolutely see your point about experience in terms of the suicide, but I think a *little* crazy life experience would be good...

    I just have problems with writers writing about something - let's say, a character taking drugs - if the author hasn't. I mean, how do you know how it feels to be peer pressured? Or that feeling of taking it for the first time, the anticipation. The effects it starts to have, the going crazy. The crash down.

    Interviewing and researching are great, but some things I think need first-hand experience. Of course, prove me wrong!

  2. Hmm, what an interesting question! I definitely see what you mean in terms of the suicide, but I'm sure there are other examples. For me, it's always hard to get into the head of someone who is a mother, because I'm not one, and to go even further, I'm seventeen, so I'm not sure that I would even understand how to be a mother if I actually was a literal one, if that makes sense.

    But I think our solution, as writers, is to focus on the emotional tenor of the piece. Sure, none of us have ever committed suicide since we're all here happily typing away at our keyboards, but all of us have experienced disappointments. I think it would be plausible to take an emotional tenor of something you know - disappointment, heartbreak, grief - and then try to magnify it to an emotional level that would actually lead to suicide.

    But there are other not-quite-so-huge examples, like how to write first love if you've never loved someone before? Or, how to write heartbreak if you've never felt it?

    I think as long as you hit the right emotional tenor, most readers would forgive minor detail slips in terms of varying experiences.

  3. Lila, I agree. It's the emotion that counts. There is a range of human emotion that I think we've all experienced to some degree. It's our own emotional experience that enables us to identify with characters we read about, and it's that same experience we can put into our writing. I think that's why female authors can write male characters and vice-versa - emotions are asexual and effect us all.