Writing about Writing

Archive for June, 2014

The Power of Experience

There is a movie I love to watch named Shadows in the Sun, it stars Harvey Keitel as a struggling author, and Joshua Jackson as an editor/wannabe author.  It is, of course, a romance.  But it isn’t just a romance about people , it is also a romance about writing, hence why I enjoy it so much.

There is a scene in the movie where Weldon (Keitel) is talking to Jeremy (Jackson) about experience.  How do you write a scene, when you have never experienced what you are describing?  As an example, he asks Jeremy if he has ever been punched in the stomach.  Jeremy responds, ‘No’, prompting Weldon to punch him in the gut.  He then points out the various descriptive elements of being sucker-punched while Jeremy clutches his stomach in pain.  “That’s experience,” Weldon says.

This is such a great scene because, aside from being amusing, it also illustrates the way writers should look at their experiences.  Life isn’t just something that happens to a writer, it’s a way to learn and understand different scenes and emotional states, for the purpose of recreating them later.  This is important because these experiences go in a sort of ‘toolkit’ a writer dips into whenever he or she is writing a scene.  And of course, the bigger and more varied the toolkit, the more realistic and powerful the scenes will be.

I’ve thought about this many times, as I tend to consider myself as having had a very bizarre life, filled with great highs and terrible lows.  Perhaps this is reflected in the depressed, often pessimistic characters I have a tendency to create.

However, I started to think about it again when something happened to me recently.  I was at the vet with the Mrs and our kitten, Bieksa, when my body decided to completely check out.  And by check out, I mean I passed out.

Passing out isn’t a completely new experience to me.  I can recall about half a dozen occasions from my younger days when my body said ‘Nope’, and I woke up on the ground.  This time, however, I was determined to absorb everything I could about the experience.

So what do I recall?

Pre-passing out:

– Became dizzy

– Hearing a consistent, high pitch noise

– Extremities began to tingle

– Had a vague sense that maybe if I moved around, that would help

– Lost ability to focus on what was happening around me

After regaining consciousness:

– Blackness at first, just a sense that my mouth was opening and closing rapidly.  Felt like a fish.

– Couldn’t stop my mouth from moving.  Frustration.

– Very cold.

– Eyes open. World seems fuzzy and too bright.  Eyes refuse to focus on any one thing.

– Head hurts, a lot.  Pounding like someone is hitting the floor with a mallet.

– Confusion.  What happened?  Where am I? Why am I on the ground?  Why does everyone look so worried?

– Mouth still won’t stop moving.  How irritating is that?

– Dizzy, ears ringing, still can’t move.  Eyes catch a darkness on the floor at the top of my head.  What’s that? Blood?

– Slowly regaining motor functions.  Able to stop mouth from moving.

– Thought to myself, (Seriously, not a lie!) this is an interesting experience, I need to write it one day.

– When I can finally speak, my first word is ‘Head?’.  Turns out the blackness I saw was my hat.  Totally forgot I’d been wearing it.

– Finally able to move around a bit.  Can’t stand up yet, but able to sit up.  Like coming out of a really, really deep sleep in slow motion.

That about sums of the incident.  Neat, right?  If I was writing a scene like this before, I probably would have gotten pretty close, but now I think I could do much better.  For example, the whole thing with the mouth opening and closing on its own was a complete surprise.  Before now, I wouldn’t have thought to include an uncontrolled reaction like that.

Call me crazy, but when all was said and done, I wasn’t particularly concerned about myself.  I was mostly pleased that I’d been able to experience an interesting moment so vividly, because I think that is important.  Take the good moments and the bad, and experience them as vividly and honestly as possible.  The writing will be better for it.