Today on the blog is a guest post by the awesome Laura Sibson. You know her from her blog, Laura Sibson: A journey toward writing dangerously. As an added bonus, Laura writes young adult fiction. Welcome, Laura!
Many thanks to the inestimable L. Marie for creating this series and offering me an opportunity to be a part of it. I graduated with her from the Vermont College of Fine Arts program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. As I work toward the final draft of a contemporary young adult novel, Andrew Stanton’s TED talk helped me think more deeply about the elements of storytelling. The final point that Stanton makes in his talk, Clues to a Great Story, is to write from your experience.
I knew from the time that I was a teen that I wanted to write novels. The problem was that I didn’t think I had anything to say. It seemed that everywhere I turned, the advice was WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW. I was a young white woman from a middle class family. What the heck did I know? I grew older, worked, married and had children and I guess by then I knew some stuff, but it didn’t seem to be stuff that would make for a good story. So I still did not write.
Then I got an idea in my head to write a story about two sisters who find out that they are witches. Obviously, I wasn’t a witch (maybe that’s not obvious, but trust me) but I did (and do) have a sister. As I wrote that story, I was able to infuse a paranormal fantasy with real sisterly love and real sisterly rivalry. Those aspects of the story were some of my favorite scenes to write because I could write them from my truth.
The next novel I wrote was about a teen girl whose mother dies. The main character decides to fight her uncle to keep the house that she’d lived in with her mom. My own mother is very much alive and I do not now nor have I ever had an evil uncle attempting to toss me from my home. But I lived for a time with my grandmother in the Baltimore house that inspired the story. Here again, I could write from my own experience. I’d walked those streets; I remembered the cherry tree in the back yard and the maple gold hue of the hardwood floors in that house. I believe it was the details from my experience that made the setting come alive for my readers.
The house that inspired the novel
The story I’m writing now is different from any other that I’ve written. A while back, when I read a scene to a group of writer friends, the whole room went silent. It was a good sort of silent. I’d moved the listeners with my scene and it wasn’t because I’d jumped through verbal hoops with my prose. And it wasn’t because I’d ended the scene on a suspenseful cliffhanger. It was because I’d written a moment of emotional truth. The situation I’d written was fiction, but the feelings were authentic.
Andrew Stanton shared in his talk that he bears two scars from his premature birth. He wasn’t expected to live. But live he did. In fact, Stanton said that the knowledge of his premature birth galvanized him “to be worthy of the second chance he was given.” In time, Stanton gave those scars to a tiny fish and he named that fish Nemo.
Stanton says, “Use what you know,” but he goes further than the old adage with which we are all familiar. “It doesn’t have to be plot or fact. It means capturing a truth from your experience.”
We all have scars of some sort. Rather than being burdened or shamed by those scars, we can take guidance from Andrew Stanton. Let’s allow those scars to inspire us toward creating work that resonates with people on an emotional level.
For all who are reading this post, here are some questions: How has your experience helped shape your writing? How have you allowed your own scars to be shown in your writing?
Author photo by Marvin Dangerfield. Euodora Welty jpeg fromblog.writeathome.com. Nemo from fanpop.com. House photo courtesy of Laura Sibson. Truth image from pinterest.com.