Welcome to part two of my epic series: How to Use Your Life Experiences to Supercharge Your Writing! If you missed the first post, “’Write What You Know’ and Diving Into Your Experience Pool” you’re should read that here, since this post builds off of all the amazing things we discovered while exploring our experience pools. If you’re trying to make your WIP amazing by using details from your life, I suggest heading over to part three, Watering Your WIP Garden
Last week, you discovered just how much epic stuff you’ve stored in your Experience Pool. This week, we’re going to use these drops, drips and buckets to create amazing ideas for your writing. Prepare for a shower of inspiration, and to create beautiful writerly music from it!
Singing in the Rain
Journaling and Reflection
Yes, I know I mentioned this in the Diving Deeper section of my first post, but I think that journaling and brainstorming are the perfect way to warm up your writing muscles and get into the right frame of mind for any writing project. It’s also a great way to generate ideas for new stories and to challenge your writing skills. I’ve separated each prompt in this section based on where they apply to answers from “Diving Into Your Experience Pool,” so make sure to have your answers on hand!
Try to remember as many details as possible from one of your most prominent memories. Even if you think you’re making something up, focusing on your sensory memories can trigger unexpected connections and help you write about what might be uncomfortable subject matter.
Write out one of your prominent memories from someone else’s perspective. What thoughts do you think were running through your parents’ minds that time you went to the emergency room? How do you think your partner felt the first time you kissed? It’s always a great challenge to write from a different perspective than you normally would. If you want more practice with this, check out the 30 Day Author Up Challenge from Kristen at She’s Novel.
Write about what you think your life would be like if you went back and changed the events of any one memory of your choosing? What would be the best case scenario? What would be the worst? This exercise will really push you to think about how every step you’ve taken has led up to your situation now, and to imagine the consequences of changing any significant event.
Pick out a prominent –or boring- memory, but choose one aspect (think: Who, What, Where, When, Why) to make completely different. Remember going deer hunting for the first time? What if what you were hunting zombies, or dinosaurs? Trying on your favorite prom dress can become preparation for a royal coronation. Even smaller changes, like who your first kiss was with, or where, can lead to interesting ideas.
Write from the perspective of someone has opposite views from you on an issue that you feel very strongly about. Do some research and try to write the article as genuinely and persuasively as possible, even if it makes you want to puke. This entry won’t just make you a stronger writer, but can help you become open to new ideas and to learn to understand and respect other people, even if you don’t agree with them. Plus, if it makes you feel better, you can always write another entry tearing their argument to pieces later.
Write about times where your outlooks were challenge or changed. What/who made you rethink things? What about the event was so impactful on you? These kinds of moments make great inspiration for creating dynamic characters that readers actually want to read about and identify with.
Pick one of the “truths” you described in Part One, and write out a scientific(ish) examination of how you reached that conclusion. What was your original question and hypothesis? What proof do you have that your theory is correct? Did you have to revise your hypothesis before finally settling on what you have now? Knowing how you have come to a certain conclusion will help you understand how your characters may have become the people they are as well.
Write about a situation where your worst fear comes to life. What do you imagine your reaction would be? Could you become a hero, or would you have a breakdown? Understanding the different effects fear can have the same person is a great way to understand what can make your character truly heroic, or what can make them turn tail and run.
Write a guide to help someone learn about how to gauge your emotions. Are there certain “tells” that give you away when you’re lying? Are you a great pretender? Knowing your own habits can help you develop some of these details for your characters. Writing a guide about someone else you know really well after taking some field notes is a great way to add more information to your pool, and it gives you an advantage if s/he is also your poker buddy.
Next time you’re feeling any emotion really intensely, try doing some stream of consciousness journaling. Write down everything as it runs through your mind, and any observations that you make about the way your body is feeling or how you’re reacting to other things in your environment. Normally, we only reflect on our emotions after they have passed, but knowing the way you feel during the actual event can help make your characters reactions more realistic. Even taking quick notes on your phone or a stray piece of paper can help you note small details you would’ve forgotten later.
Write about a pivotal moment in one of your relationships. It could be a revelation of a secret, or just that lightbulb moment where you realize just how happy or miserable you are when you’re around this person. Try writing a high-drama and a low-key version, and see which one feel more natural to your writing style.
Write about the way you imagine some of your most important relationships will look five/ten/twenty years from now. You could try the worst and best case scenarios, or simply try to be as reasonable and logical as possible. Try to look back at how your relationships have changed so far, and use those as clues to guess where they might be going, or use “what if” questions to help you think about how certain milestones or events could change the direction of your relationship.
Write about what makes some of your most valued relationships special. Do they share a passion with you that no one else seems interested in? Maybe they just give a refreshing perspective on life that you cherish. What do you think they see in you?
Now that we’ve reflected on some of the amazing things in our experience pool, let’s start using some of our discoveries to create some epic stories and characters. If you already have some ideas from your journaling, make sure to write them down right away so you don’t forget them! If you’re still struggling, no worries! I have some great ideas below to help you transform your reflections about yourself into ideas for characters and plots that you never thought of before.
Mix and Match
Make a list of some of the most interesting things that you learned about yourself, as well as some basic traits about your personality and situation. Now, add things from other people, real or fictional. Now, start doing some random picking and choosing. What kind of interesting combinations can you come up with? What combination seems to be the most challenging? Take note of what intrigues you and why for future reference.
Here’s some examples I came up with:
My List of Mix and Match Traits
Combo 1: An awkward sword-fighter with bad vision
Combo 2: A naïve, but nurturing journalist
Combo 3: A materialistic shape-shifting blogger
Losing the Cast List
Take a look at the people in your life. Think about the roles they’ve played in your formation as a person and how they’ve steered your life in a certain direction. Now, recast it all. Make your favorite teacher into your parent, your best friend into your mom, and the cute neighbor boy you kissed three summers ago? He’s your cousin now, deal with it. How does this change your outcome? What hilarity or seriousness ensues?
”A Poignant Examination of the Role _____ Plays in Our Lives”
Pick out an emotion your familiar with, or a recurring theme in your life (Examples: Procrastination, Creativity, Abandonment, Patience) and write out a scene where each character also shares this emotion of theme, but carries it in a different way than everyone else in the scene. You could also try emulating Inside Out and write characters that are manifestations of different emotions as you feel them.
Finding the Place
Write about a place that’s familiar and special to you, but from the perspective of someone who is just discovering it. Why are they there? How are they feeling? Use as many details from your own memories as possible, especially non-sight ones, if you can. Could this scene take place in a different time or even a different world, or is there something special about this place in the here and now? Using your own surroundings to inspire settings gives you the chance to use details that will make your reader feel like they are actually exploring alongside your character.
A Blind Date with a Scrapbook
Photos from your life have fallen into a stranger’s hands. What kind of story do they tell? What clues can they use from these photos to guess what kind of person you are? Maybe your stranger has a wild imagination, or isn’t familiar with your lifestyle enough, and has some very strange explanations for some photos. Why? You could also try looking at photos of a friend without any context, and see what stories your imagination stirs up.
Another homework-heavy post, I know. Good news is you’ve successfully begun using your Experience Pool to get words down on paper, from dramatized retelling of certain memories (short story gold mines) to simply using a part of your life as the base for creating new characters. If you want to find out how to use your Experience Pool to improve a WIP, make sure to read the next post in the series: “Watering the WIP Garden.”
What was your favorite journaling prompt from this post? What methods do you use to come up with great story ideas? Towel off, then share your responses below, and don’t forget to spread the love on twitter with @SpunFromInk!
If you have any personal questions, or want help diving even deeper into your experience pool, feel free to e-mail me at SpunFromInk@gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you!