Are You Painting Your Picture with Basic Crayolas or the 64-Pack? Using Personal Experience to Enrich Your Story-Telling
PLEASE let's give a BIG welcome to guest blogger ANNE MARIE STODDARD! When I asked her to guest blog, I never knew that it would be this fabulous!!! Be sure to check out her links at the end of this blog!
I've never been much of a blogger (although I definitely pumped out a good angsty Live Journal and Xanga post or two back in my early college years--but those don't exactly count, now, do they?). They say that not only should writers write every single day--we should blog too. But about what? How many posts about writing advice can you read before they all start to run together like a box of melted crayons?
Tonight, I'd like to mix it up a little bit. Forget the "do's" and "don'ts" of how to get published or market the perfect novel (Don't worry--there will be *plenty* more of those posts to come, but not tonight, buddy!). Right now, I'm in the mood to talk about what fuels my writing (be it good or bad quality content), and how I got started writing again after taking a nearly 12-year hiatus.
When I was younger, as far back as kindergarten, all I wanted to do was become a published author. I spent playtime in kindergarten writing two- or three-page stories about the Easter Bunny (complete with illustrations brought to you by my imagination and a 64-pack of Crayola crayons--I even busted out the fancier shades like "Cornflower," "Timberwolf," and "Purple Mountain's Majesty" If you've never colored in your sun or stars using "Macaroni & Cheese," you haven't lived, my friend!) After the Easter Bunny, it was crazy witch stories, then straight-up horror stories.
I'll never forget the first full-length story I wrote. 3rd grade, Halloween, Mrs. Oliver's class at Southside Elementary. The story was called "The Headless Prankster," and bless ol' Mrs. Lisa's heart--I'm pretty sure she didn't read through the story before she decided to read it out loud to the class. I have quite a few memories of watching scary movies with my dad and brother from in between the cracks of my fingers as I covered my eyes, and I guess some of those must have rubbed off on me, because my story was remarkably vivid and dark for a nine-year-old.
"The Headless Prankster" was about six teenagers (three girls and three boys, of course) who were camping out in the woods when--oh no!--suddenly a storm came and washed their tents away! On that cliche dark and stormy night those kids found a house out in the woods with one light on upstairs. One by one they each went into the house, never to return. When the final teen made it into the house, what did she find? (Here comes the icky part--seriously, what business did a third grader have writing this mess?) What else? A room with a bed, where each of the other teen's bodies lay, and each of their heads was on a pillow. Oh yeah, and there was also a headless monster with holding a bloody scythe. I'll never forget the sound of Mrs. Oliver's voice when she read the next line to the class, the only line from my own story that has stuck with me for nineteen years: "With of swoop of his ax, the Headless Prankster cut off her head, and it flew through the air, landing face-up on the last pillow." That story was many things--but the one thing it most definitely was: colorful.
For the record, I don't need therapy. I just had an extremely overactive imagination back then. I went on to write a few more scary stories in sixth grade (I'll save those for another time, perhaps), but once I joined our middle school's band, my writing life was put on the shelf like an old forgotten paperback. I stayed in band all the way through my fifth year of college, and--with the exception of the aforementioned Live Journal/Xanga posts and some incredible angsty post break-up poetry in twelfth grade, I haven't really written since until last year when I began "Murder At Castle Rock." And you know what? While sometimes I regret all the years I spent not writing, at the same time...I'm glad I didn't.
Now, hear me out. I know authors say "WRITE EVERY DAY!!" Well, NOW I am trying to do that---but those unwritten twelve years of my life? They were a gift to my present author self: They were LIFE EXPERIENCE. I'm not saying my life OR my writing are necessarily best-selling material, but I know for a fact that my fiction and dialogue are more interesting because of the personal experiences I draw from when I write them.
I'm currently writing a mystery series set in the music industry in Atlanta, Ga, and it fits for me because I actually did work in the music industry in Atlanta. I've created a fictional world that is an altered reality to the music venues I also worked at in Athens, GA in college. In that world I've created rock stars, venue employees, and even a radio station based on rock stars I've met, people I've worked with, and a culmination of the many radio stations I've worked for. There is even a scene in my upcoming novel, "Murder At Castle Rock," that is very closely drawn from a real-life experience that I happened to me when (*spoiler alert!*) I nearly wrecked a radio station's cargo van while driving back from a promotional event. My stories wouldn't be nearly as colorful without those years I spent storing up the "Timberwolf" grays, "Cornflower" blues, and "Purple Mountain's Majesties" of my real life to use for later. I wouldn't have it any other way.
If you're new to writing, or even if you aren't and you just took a long hiatus like I did, fear not: In all those years you weren't writing, YOU LIVED. Now, don't just use your basic 8-pack of colors to tell a bland, unimaginative story--reach into that 64-pack of Crayolas that is your memory bank and draw from those personal experiences. Feel free to embellish as much or as little as you like, but remember how real those times were for you, and try to capture that on paper. I can almost guarantee you'll get a better story out of it.
Anne Marie Stoddard used to work in radio, and it rocked. She goes to concerts like it's her job--because sometimes, it actually is. After studying Music Business at the University of Georgia, Anne Marie has worked for several music venues, radio stations, and large music festivals, and she currently creates promotional contests and writes music trivia for a media company. Aside from all things music, she loves college football, anything-pumpkin flavored, and a good mystery. Anne Marie recently is the winner of the 2012 Decatur Book Festival & BookLogix, Inc. Writing Contest for her manuscript for "Murder At Castle Rock," a music industry murder mystery. It will be published in the coming months and will be her first full-length novel.