In one of my past blogs several months back, I wrote about incorporating your life experiences into your writing. I have found over the years that a lot of writers block comes about because the writer has not planned out his or her story ahead of time. This can be done by not biting off more than you can chew for one thing. In other words, keep in control of your plot. Don’t try to write the history of the world in one book. Writer’s block occurs when your plot (or whatever it is you want to say) gets in charge of you.
The best way to stay in control of your plot is to write from personal experience. That goes hand in hand with telling the truth. If you stick with the facts, you’ll never be caught in an unwieldy set of circumstances. You merely just repeat the truth and it never changes. The same with your plot. If you stick with your experiences, you won’t get lost.
Of course sometimes you will encounter certain areas in which you will have to do vast research to fake a certain experience. In my book Contessa, I had the main character spending the day in Bridgeport, Connecticut, at the Barnum Museum. In all actuality, I have never set foot in that city or the museum. I did a great deal of research and managed to get through that part of the plot rather tolerably. However, I simply couldn’t do that with an entire book. It would lack truthfulness, frankness and intimacy.
If you have read my blogs over the last few weeks, you will have relived with me many of my actual army experiences of years ago. You will have read about my getting to the island of Okinawa and some of the various adventures I had while serving in the military there. I used a great many of those incidents in my book Contessa. Below you will see two brief passages from Contessa which are based on actual experiences of mine. What if I had not had those real experiences but tried fabricating them? For sure the book would have lacked the freshness of realism. Compare these two passages below with their counterparts in my autobiographical blogs of the past three weeks.
TROOP SHIP BLOG: (Excerpt from Contessa)
In the meantime, Rico and Harvey came through with some extremely important tips for me. Rico said,
“Run like hell to board the troopship. Try to be among the first—and you will if you don’t loaf around like the dawdlers who hate the thought of leaving the U. S. A. Take your duffel bag and run like hell down to the sleeping quarters in the bowels of the ship. The bunks are six high. There are no mattresses—just some canvas looped with rope onto a rectangular pipe frame. You’ll have a pillow and a blanket. Hoist your duffel bag up to the top bunk—I mean the absolute top one.”
Harvey added, “Again run like hell and try to find the Chaplain’s office. Some crew member will be able to tell you where it is. Find him and tell him you have all sorts of experience working in the library.”
“But that’s true,” I said.
“So much the better. Beg him—get down on your knees and pray—do anything you can to get to work in that library.”
“And then make sure,” Rico jumped in, “that you don’t watch the movies on deck at night and for goodness sake don’t look down at the boat plowing through the water.”
HABU! HABU! BLOG: (Excerpt from Contessa)
Mind you in addition to that village being quiet as a tomb at night, it had no streetlights. I went to the edge of the village and waited on the side of the road for the bus. The moon was full and it was a lovely tropical evening. In those days, I smoked cigarettes. (A habit I’d picked up soon after my arrival on Okinawa.) My tendency was to light a cigarette and somehow I thought that helped make the bus hurry up and arrive.
My mind was in Jericho as I puffed away. All of a sudden, I noticed what I thought was a leaf floating about three feet from the ground. The only problem was the leaf just floated and floated and never landed. I thought how strange—and even stranger, there wasn’t a breath of a breeze. All of a sudden it came to me. What I erroneously thought was a floating leaf was in all reality the moonlight reflecting off the hood of a snake. A habu was standing right before me and was following the red ash of my cigarette. I was in super panic. The only thing I knew to do was stand still and as loudly but in as controlled a manner as possible say, “Habu! Habu! Habu!”
I was hoping and praying that one of the natives in the closest hut would hear me. After what seemed like an eternity, a door opened and I heard a scurrying sound. The people had let out their mongoose on a long line. It made a direct dash for that habu and instantly tore its mouth to shreds. I went limp. I thanked the people. They reeled back in their mongoose, the bus came, and I got on it.
These two examples show how I used experiences from my real life in a book of fiction which I wrote. So, actually a lot of fiction is really real life in essence. It’s certainly a way to keep your plot well oiled and working smoothly.
NOTICE: The next four blogs will come to you from Paris, France, where I will be spending most of the month of July. I lived there 10 years and it is where I began my career as a writer. I will be sharing with you some of my favorite tips about Paris.