o it’s said that writing can put you into a scene, allowing you to live an experience that you’d never actually encountered. True?
Generally, yeah. Specifically, no.
Yes, there are a great number of writers out there that can convey a feeling. As it stands, I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve read about, say, hurricanes. I’ve read dozens of stories set on ships at sea, hammered by hurricanes. The Caine Mutiny and Lord Jim are two that stick with me. And I’ve read about huge storms breaking over settlements, of twisters, cyclones, even wacky crime stories (i.e. Hiaasen’s Stormy Weather). Hell, in my unpublished Indigo, a flock of crows fight the battle for the end of the world against overwhelming odds in the face of Hurricane Charlie. So, yes, I am no stranger to literary storms.
But none of that quite captured my mood as of last Thursday night when Hurricane Matthew was bearing down on us. Sure, we were eighty miles off the track. But we had a big dead oak in the back, an older house, a forested neighborhood. A swerve in the track, a whirlwind under the car port, a unsecured projectile, any one of those could spell disaster (possibly death). So I sat around Thursday listening to the rains stream down and the wind moan through the trees and felt dry-mouth fear.
Stories of other people (even first person people (or crows) didn’t quite capture my tripping heart and shortness of breath.
It’s like when I read Quicksilver – there, a character in the 1600’s suffers a kidney stone. And yes, I understood the pain he was suffering. Yes, it hurts, got it. That is until a while ago when I suffered my own rock. And then I knew what pain was. Deep throbbing pain, pain that makes you lay in a huddled heap and gasp. Pain there is no escape from. I simply cannot express what that was like, other than when I met another kidney stone sufferer – we exchanged looks and shared-shudders at the ghastly shrieking agony we’d both suffered.
Still, as a writer, I do try to keep these memories as sharp as I can. These are moments that can’t be selfied into a phone. These are the things one experiences, the things that might come up in later writing. So all those moments are filed away, car crashes, plane crashes, relationship crashes, job crashes; moments my characters might one day face, which I’ll do my damnedest to capture and carry. While you don’t have to stand on the burning deck to write about it, experience helps.
Especially if you survive the research.