When real life becomes a novel

My writing process
December 7, 2014
Spirit is now available for pre-order
February 5, 2015

I was perusing the Net tonight looking for stuff I could put on Twitter, and possibly Facebook, to keep my social presence at least somewhat lukewarm while I’m waiting for Spirit to come back from the publisher after a final review. When my microscopic one found some things I didn’t like, I asked for the pass. I’m not looking for perfection, but I want to give the book every possible chance to be the best it can be.

Anyway, I came across 10 Ways To Turn Your Real Life Experiences Into Science Fiction on Lifehacker. Most of them stuck a chord with me because I did them to vary degrees in Spirit.  The half that really stood out were:

Find the nightmarish, bizarre kernel of your trauma – When I was kid I had a black and white pinto pony named Jigsaw Puzzle. He’d be good one day and a brat the next. For a few years after riding him, I couldn’t go above a trot because I was afraid of being dumped. I used this experience and fear as the basis for my main character’s traumatic experience with horses and consequent fear. For fiction’s sake, hers was much worse than mine. Still, it was easier to write those parts because of my experience.

Exaggerate all the details and romanticize There is a chapter of in the book where my character has finally regained enough courage to ride again. One of the thoughts she has as she starts out is Okay, this is good. Nice, slow walk is good. I remember having almost the same exact thought when I trotted for the first time. Of course, the gait was different, but the feeling was not. I remember melting into the saddle and finding the sweet spot where I was moving with my horse much like my main character did with hers.

Let yourself fantasize about what you wish had happened… then subvert that – There is one part toward the end of the book where my character gets to fulfill a wish that I never will be able to. I can’t really say what it is because it would give too much away. Of course, I’m a little biased, but I think that part was done really well and doesn’t come off at all corny or contrived. We’ll just have to see when Spirit comes out and I start getting reader’s reactions, if my gut feeling is right.

Identify the genre your experience belongs to, and then just write in that genre – My life has been filled with so many different things that it doesn’t fit in a convenient little box. Same thing with Spirit, it doesn’t fit one genre. I sat down one time and counted at least five separate ones.  Did I mean to do that? No.  All I wanted was a simple horse story, but what about life is simple these days? Besides, not everyone likes horse stories. They do, however, like stories with a believable characters, a solid weaving of the plot lines, and little surprises. That’s what Spirit has and so much more.

Use your real-life specialized knowledge to shore up your world-building – I’m not an expert in everything that I wrote in the book. The parts I didn’t know, I researched. The parts that deal with computers and horses come from my own experience with them. Also, one of my friends is a network engineer so I was able to pick his brain on certain things. He, and my own nerdy side, is the inspiration for the computer geek in the book.

While finding the article and identifying with parts was fun, I’ve done it with other articles with much less positive results. That’s what’s makes this transition time between my final edit and the publisher’s final review so hard. I know what’s in the book and I think it’s all pretty solid, readable, and believable, but I’m closer to the material than anyone else. I have a lot of expectations for Spirit, and the Stars of Heros series as whole, and a lot of dreams and fantasies as well.  Some which will come true, some which probably won’t. I don’t want to be so unrealistic that I’m somewhere way out in left field. At the same time, I don’t want to get caught up in all the low expectations, struggle for recognition, and other barriers that all first time authors face that I lose hope and say forget it to the rest of my series.  I’ve come way too close to that more times than I want to count.

I have to find a balance and do what I posted on Twitter earlier – Deal with life as it comes.

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