A Little of What You Know…
I pondered this question hard recently. At about 2am, if we’re being precise (I’m a chronic insomniac). And I came to the conclusion that, try as we might, what we know always manages to infiltrate our writing.
Let’s return to the fantasy writer; feverishly designing strange countries and incomprehensible creatures. True, these places and beings don’t exist in the real world. But at the heart of them all, lies something we recognise.
Take dragons, for example. Not a million miles away from various reptiles – dinosaurs even. Unicorns? Take one beautiful white horse, add a twirly horn on it. Job done.
True, the fantasy writer has never waded through boiling hot lava, nor travelled through an underwater land. However, I bet they know what it’s like to be hot, or what it feels like to dive into the sea. They’ve seen footage of volcanoes exploding, and watched fish in an aquarium. In short, they’ve got a wealth of personal experiences that they can use to bring their creations to life.
Injecting a Bit of What I Know
I was talking about this with a friend recently (yes, down the pub, before you ask). Dr Ribero is classic magical realism; in that most of the action takes place in ‘the real world,’ in locations we easily recognise. However, there are one or two ghosts hanging around – not to mention a vast underground network of spirit agencies.
If you’re presuming I don’t live in a haunted house, you’d presume correctly. However, the house I grew up in had plenty of spooky goings-on in it, and that was definitely experience to draw from. Also, I know what it’s like to be scared. Don’t we all! Like everyone else, I’ve experienced shock, dismay, panic – and all of those emotions were highly useful when writing this novel.
How to Draw on Your Own Experiences
Your life experiences are invaluable when writing. This could include:
- Places. The first Dr Ribero book is set in Exeter. The second in Lyme Regis (Dorset, don’t you know!). Both these places I know exceptionally well.
- People. You don’t have to limit this to friends and family. Celebrities are often useful. So too are people in cafes… which is where, for some reason, you’ll always find the most interesting, and occasionally random people!
- Things. When going about your daily business, try to keep your eyes wide open. Notice things around you. When you’re walking along that alleyway, what does it smell like? What does the ground feel like underfoot? When you’re on the beach, what sounds can you hear? Jot it down in a notebook so you don’t forget.
- Emotions. What does it feel like to lose someone dear to you? How do you feel when someone really annoys you? When your brother forgets your birthday, what emotions do you experience? Be aware of how you’re feeling – these emotions can be used in your writing!
I’ll admit, I’m one of those writers who is forever scribbling notes. Not in a notebook, because I’m not organised enough. Instead, I rely on scrap pieces of paper, which then end up piled on my desk, until it looks like someone's preparing a bonfire around me.
If you’re more a visual person, take photos on your phone. Make videos, which also capture sound – and give you a better sense of a location. If you want to experience places you’ve never been before, get online! Google Earth is particularly wonderful if you want to go exploring (as I recently found out when I needed to visit Holburn Station in London for the third Dr Ribero book). It's also a marvellous source of inspiration; so make it your job to go snooping today...