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Real world experience and powerful writing

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Blink, Mar 28, 2015.

  1. Blink

    Blink Acolyte

    Hello. Before I ask my question let me share a brief bit about myself. I'm 25 and I've been an endearing fan of fantasy since I was 8. (particularly but not exclusively medieval themed) I've played nearly thousands of video games, assembled numerous PCs for personal use, had PLENTY of dead end jobs, and overall endured reality's necrotic symbiosis.

    If someone had been drunk enough to consider their self poisoned, associate with people that would threaten their well-being, go to college for 1 semester and drop out, roller-blade in a batman costume downtown, sit it on drug deals or whatever you can imagine! Could these real life experiences bolster fictional writing?

    My question is: Are real life experiences beneficial for writing powerful fantasy?

    Other questions: Or could someone write a great book without ever having left their front stoop?
    Perhaps fantasy is merely imagination and does not require at all first hand experience, like having a weapon pointed at you? Now that a person has experienced settings in real life and know what they feel like, would their illustration be too real for people to understand? Does it even matter?

    I've already answered this question silently to myself, but I would really like to hear what you have to say about this. Thank you in advance for taking the time to answer this question.
  2. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

    "Write what you know" doesn't have to mean writing from personal experience only. If that were true, not only would we not have ancient mythology to draw from, our literary market would be saturated with suburbanite whinging about minor First World problems. Fiction has always been life with the boring parts edited out.

    It is still inevitable that your upbringing and life experiences will influence whatever you write, how subconsciously. They can show up in your stories' themes, characterization, or really any other aspect of your stories. But even then, those influences may not all work the same way for every writer. A guy in a Scottish suburb might base their heroine off the humble blonde girl next door whereas his brother might choose a gorgeous princess from faraway Uganda, even though both men have grown up in that same Scottish household. Which is to say, some may write what they know, while others write what they want to know.
  3. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    My real world experiences are totally something I draw from to write. I firmly believe that the writing I do from personal experience is stronger than the things I simply invent, especially in the beginning of my writing journey.

    The things that have most challenged me are things I simply can't imagine, like massive battles, so I tend to not write them. I've been fencing for about three years and while I can totally relate to a duel and am comfortable writing swordplay, say, battles and war are things I don't personally know anything about. Research is good, but it's time-consuming, so I tend to take what I know and use it to as much of an advantage as I can manage. In this example, I'd use my experience in field battles to provide a limited perspective on a battle, from a single character, who sees only what he sees, and doesn't know anything about "those events, taking place over there".

    So yes. I think experience is extremely valuable and while I think there are writers good enough to write from isolation...I'm not one of them. My imagination is pretty strong, but not that strong.
  4. Terry Greer

    Terry Greer Sage

    It's certainly easier to draw on what you know. And experiences with others is key to this. Who have you loved - who has betrayed you (and how) what you have wanted, or known others to want.
    All these really are the root of 'write what you know'.

    If people really only ever wrote what they'd done and knew at first hand we wouldn't have fantasy and science fiction novels at all.
  5. Tom

    Tom Istar

    I draw on my memories of my various accidents when writing a character who's injured/in shock. I'm what you'd call an accident magnet. XD Four-wheeler, snowmobile, bike, dirt bike, canoe--you name it, I've crashed/rolled it.

    I also use my experiences with chromesthesia to write about magic. Seeing colors when music plays has always been a normal part of my life, but I know that for other people it's unusual--and magical. Building the magic of one of my worlds on chromesthesia has led to a lot of my own perceptions and memories being woven into the narrative.
    Panda likes this.
  6. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    Personal experiences definitely help. But the key IMHO is being able to take your personal experiences, what every they may be, and used them effectively in your writing.

    Even if all you've ever done what sit on the stoop, there are personal experiences that can be drawn from that and applied to story.

    When it comes to personal experience, sometimes it's not the actual thing being experienced that's important. It's the emotions that you feel in experiencing them that matters. I may not know what it feels like to face a charging rhino, but I can apply my experience facing down a speeding semi-truck and used that.

    Living life, experiencing the gambit of emotions, complex and simple, to me, that's what's important. That's the raw material from which one draws from.
    BronzeOracle and Jabrosky like this.
  7. Panda

    Panda Troubadour

    I find that I tend to "write what I know" when it comes to emotions and internal struggles. The external events are generally from my imagination (aided by research). It will be interesting to see how much this changes as I develop as a writer.

    In my attempt at a novel, I've got a character with PTSD. Since I don't have PTSD, I was worried I wouldn't be able to write this part of the story well. Then I found out that some people with PTSD experience derealization. I've had a handful of derealization episodes throughout my life, so that's at least one situation in which I can bring some first-hand experience into the story.

    I also have one scene where a character is going through withdrawal from a magic addiction. I wrote the scene while I had a migraine.

    Grapheme-color synesthete here, and I'm tempted to steal this idea, Tom Nimenai ;)
    Tom and Ireth like this.
  8. Tom

    Tom Istar

    Awesome, I've got a synesthesia buddy! High-five!

    I think it would be cool to have the grapheme-color aspect. I've got the chromesthesia, as well as the number-form aspect and some association of letters/numbers/concepts with personalities and emotions.
  9. Blink

    Blink Acolyte

    Thank you all for such insightful replies!
  10. I have a answer that's as two-sided as my leaf-blade.
    It varies, undeniably.

    Hemingway & Hunter S. Thompson: wrote from life experiences, and had life experiences so they could write.

    On The Other Hand
    Stephen Crane made up the battle scenes in his book The Red Badge of Courage without ever having been in a war, battle, or even an army. He invented every aspect of that book from whole cloth, and it was so vivid and realistic that many journalists and critics at the time assumed he must have been a war hero.

    On The Other Other Hand (this is a fantasy board, after all!)
    Edgar Allen Poe and J.R.R Tolkien had (Like Hemingway) seen war first hand, but wrote about things they could never possibly have experienced nor seen, so they may have been inspired by their life experiences, but like us all they also exceeded all their experiences in their creative imaginings.

    T.Allen.Smith likes this.
  11. BronzeOracle

    BronzeOracle Sage

    I find inspiration from life experiences - eg loss of friendships, isolation, culture shock, travelling in ruins - but also inspiration from 2nd hand experiencing of others' creative works, like books, movies, music, art work etc.

    I think the deep emotional themes of stories are driven from what's within us - this is what we care about and are fascinated by and so drive us to write the stories, particularly novels which are demanding - so they would more likely relate from our own life experiences. But then a lot of the other stuff can come from research, reading, visual media etc all of which can also inspire and fascinate us. George Lucas as a kid loved comics and cowboy movies and this voracious passion drove him to make Star Wars as an adult. When watching movies I find myself re-crafting scenes and characters again and again, same with music I start imagining events, characters, situations etc. So its not all from my real life - that's the beauty of the creative process, ALL of our experiences (1st and 2nd hand) are grist for the mill! :)
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2015
  12. SD Stevens

    SD Stevens Scribe

    I have 48 years of personal experience to utilise. I also have a life time of acquaintances to model my characters on.

    One thing that I find essential when reading fantasy is real life issues. Making a fantasy world believable is the authors responsibility and using your own life's experiences helps to build it up. Also it anchors your story, gives a reader something they know/experienced to bring them deeper into your world.

    Hope they makes sense, Iv only just got up.

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
  13. Panda

    Panda Troubadour

    High-five! (5) :) (It bugs me that I can't make the "i"s white without being unreadable.)

    I actually think chromesthesia would be cooler, but then I guess you always want what you can't have. Still, I listen to a lot of symphonic metal, which I imagine must look like fireworks or something to you.

    High-fifteen! :D

    Poe's a good example of the sort of writing I was talking about (writing what you know in terms of emotions, rather than events). He wrote poems like "The Raven" and "Annabel Lee" because he was a grieving widower. The fact that he wasn't literally haunted by a nihilistic raven isn't what's important.
    Maximillian_dErembourg, Tom and Ireth like this.
  14. Tom

    Tom Istar

    Metal and other forms of rock actually look more like a lightning storm! Electric guitar generally appears as ice-blue spikes that vary in height and speed depending on the intensity and pitch of the note--sort of like a vitals monitor.

    What's it like to have grapheme-color synesthesia? Is all text multi-colored?
  15. Panda

    Panda Troubadour

    Oh man, that sounds awesome. Want to trade brains? :D

    Mine's sort of complicated. Text is multicolored, with letters and digits (and a few punctuation symbols) each having a distinct color that stays consistent (e.g. "A" is always red), although in some cases the shade can change based on the surrounding letters. (The "S" in "Sam" is pale blue, while the "S" in "Steve" is almost gray.) Case doesn't matter ("A" and "a" are both red), nor does font, print vs cursive, etc.: If I think the symbol I'm looking at is a specific letter or number, it becomes that color.

    Here's where it gets hard to explain (although, being a synesthete yourself, you might understand this): I don't literally see the colors. It's not like a hallucination or anything; I know that what I'm typing right now is a black font. It's just that looking at words gives me a sensation of those colors. The wikipedia article I linked to tries to simulate this by showing a picture of black letters with a colored glow-effect around them. That's probably about as close as a graphic can get to showing what it looks like to me, although even that isn't really accurate. I was actually sort of stunned when I read this Cracked article a few months ago (6 Ways You See the World Differently When You Can Hear Color) and discovered that synesthetes are divided into two categories: projectors and associators. Apparently "projectors" actually literally see (or hear or whatever) the extra sensory input. So if I were a projector, I actually would literally see red when I look at the letter A. So maybe you literally see blue spikes when you hear an electric guitar, and I must sound insane to you.

    (Cracked also apparently mentions synesthesia in an article called "Five mental disorders that can get you laid." Synesthesia is not a mental disorder and I can't imagine how using it to get laid would work. :confused2: "Hey babe, you look just like Shane from The Purple Word.")

    Okay, so here's where it gets really complicated: words tend to take on the color of the first letter in them. So "Tom" is green, because T is green. I can see that the O and M are white and red, but they're sort of overshadowed by the T. So "Tom" is simultaneously green and green-white-red. The O and the M are two colors at the same time. No, I can't explain this in a way that makes sense.

    Words can also sometimes be affected by their meanings. The word "red" is red, even though the individual letters are RED. "Seven" is red, because "7" is red. But "five" is orange, even though "5" is purple, because the F and V are both orange so they stand out and overwhelm it. No, there's really no logic to it. I don't get to choose what colors the letters are.

    I hope everything I just said makes sense and you all don't think I'm insane now.
    Nimue and Tom like this.
  16. Tom

    Tom Istar

    Nah, you don't sound insane! I'm pretty sure I'm a projector--when I hear music, it's like there's this black screen in my mind that lights up with the sounds' coordinating colors. My colors and patterns are always set, though other synesthetes have said that theirs sometimes shift.

    Bass is deep red pulses that look almost like jellyfish swimming. The beat is a thin orange line with regular pulses, and yellow feather-like flares for additional drums and cymbals. Vocals are light green, and look something like the drum line, though more erratic. Electric guitar and other electric instruments are usually ice-blue spikes, and acoustic guitar is kind of a mellow golden brown flare. Most brass and wind instruments are smooth, thin, silver or copper lines--except for the saxophone, which is bright red, and the bassoon, which is sort of a dull gray-blue.

    I enjoy music that has a lot of "texture". That is, a lot of different instruments and varied sounds at once. For other people, it might sound like musical chaos, but for me it provides a truly amazing visual experience. That's why I like Irish music--it has so many layers of sound, and they all overlap and weave into each other and diverge and circle back. In fact, you could say that Irish music creates an audible Celtic knot! (One that I happen to be able to experience visually as well.)
    Nimue, Ireth and Panda like this.
  17. Panda

    Panda Troubadour

    That's awesome. Let me know if you do write a story using that as the basis for magic, because I'd like to read it.
    Tom likes this.

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