February 12, 2014

When "Write What You Know" Rings True

Today I wrote a scene about death.

Actually, I rewrote the scene.  I never felt like I had gotten it right, before.  Writers know what I mean.  Sometimes a scene works, but you have this feeling like something is missing, an element that makes it stronger, that draws the reader into the story without effort.

In the story, a young girl, witnesses the death of her mother after the end of a long illness.  I wrote this scene several years ago before my own mother's health began to decline.

Every time I worked on this scene in the past, I wondered if I had it right.  After the events of the last month, somewhere in the back of mind, I realized my scene still missed something crucial, a feeling it took me days to find words to even begin to describe. 

So, I wrote what I knew.  I wrote about the emptiness overwhelming my insides. I drew from the feeling of wandering through life like a character in a movie just after a bomb explodes.  You've seen those scenes.  Sound is muffled, people move in slow motion, nothing makes sense to the person as they stare in stupor at the surrounding, incomprehensible world.  This is how I felt.  A shell-shocked emptiness overtook my insides and left me feeling numb, dazed, and lost, an empty shell.

I rewrote the scene drawing on this feeling.

And I cried.

Writers experience their fictional world alongside their characters, or they experience the world as the character. What we feel as we write, hopefully, permeates our words and gives the reader the same experience.  As I wrote, I relived those last few moments of my mother's life. The words flowed in a direction I'd never taken.  The scene unfolded in rich detail.  It hurt more than you can imagine. Eventually, I had to stop and succumb to a really good cry.  I think it was good for me, but I grieved the reason why my words flowed so well.

They say writers should write what we know.  It's true.

I can't reread it at the moment, but I'm pretty sure this scene finally works.

Should we write what we know?  When we can, it helps, but in this case, I'd gladly exchange the knowledge of how to write this scene for one more day with my mom.

6 comments:

Valerie Keiser Norris said...

I tried to write about my brother's death, but haven't been able to do it. Someday, I suppose. Maybe.

Barbara V. Evers said...

Valerie, I wasn't sure I could do it, and I didn't start out to write that scene. I just started working on the chapters before it, and the next thing I knew, I was there. I almost quit, but I knew I needed to work through it. Writing helps me heal, sometimes.

Jeanne Doyon said...

I think one of the hardest things to do is write through our pain. Maybe down the road after the grief has softened. But when it's fresh, it stays locked within.
I appreciate your words about both writing what we know, and loving whom we know :)

Barbara V. Evers said...

Thank you, Jeanne. It was a tough struggle, but I made it through it.

Jayne said...

While I enjoyed the entire post, the three little words that grabbed me are "And I cried." I can't remember who said this, but the quote (paraphrased) is "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader." The writer has to truly feel what she's writing if she wants to evoke the emotion in her readers. Sounds like you've succeeded in this scene.

Barbara V. Evers said...

Jayne, I know the quote well and feel it's apt.