The Writer’s Alchemy: Transforming the Wreckage of Your Past into Novel Gold

91998041_dab331a3e7_b-600x450What makes a good novel? Is it the fact that the characters are flawless and perfect? They never have any problems or conflicts and the story is smooth sailing and sunshine from start to finish?

Right. I’m asleep already and I haven’t even gotten past the first paragraph.

What makes a novel worth reading for most people is CONFLICT and RESOLUTION. The conflict keeps readers turning pages and the resolution is what keeps them coming back for the next book. Without conflict, the story is flat, unrealistic, uninteresting, and basically, a waste of time and brain space for all involved; writer and reader.

We read and love stories with conflict because we have this drive to see what happens. Like that traffic jam caused by onlooker traffic, we have a morbid curiosity for observing tragedy, malfunction, mishaps, conflicts, and disasters. Part of this may be because we’ve never been through anything like it in our own life, so we want the experience without actually having the experience. Or maybe we’ve had similar experiences and find comfort in the fact that others have had the same experiences. Maybe we’re stuck somewhere and want to see how others make it through those emotional boobytraps, so that we can find our way out as well. Of course, a lot of this may not be conscious thought. As we are trying to decide what to read next, or we are beginning a new book and deciding whether or not to keep reading, our brain is processing all of this stuff in the background, weighing in the pros and cons of reading this. If nothing else, seeing how this very interesting and flawed character is going to get out of this interesting and complicated situation is intriguing and entertaining.

That’s where a hairy past can become a goldmine for a writer. No one can write conflict as good as someone who has experienced conflict. It doesn’t mean that if we’ve been through a nasty divorce or the death of someone we love, that that is what we need to write about, specifically. But it does mean we can hone in on the emotions that are a result of those experiences, and tailor those into our characters and story.

When I decided I wanted to write a novel, four years ago, I had recovered from a hopeless life full of turmoil, mental illness, and addiction, and I knew I had something to share. “A memoir,” I thought. “I shall write a memoir.” Not many people have been where I have been and survived to tell about it. So, I began writing said memoir. A year later, and 60K words into it, I hit a wall and was struck with writer’s block. I took a sample of it to a writer/publisher friend of mine and asked his opinion.

“You need to set this aside,” he said, after skimming through a few pages. “Maybe write some fiction for a couple years and then come back to it.”

I laughed at that. “Fiction?! No way. This is serious stuff here. I’ve been to hell and back and lived to write about it! People need to know my story!”

I didn’t write for a year. Like, at all. I was seriously depressed and struck with an array of emotions from inadequacy to self-loathing. I felt like I just wasn’t cut out to be a writer, which sucked, because that meant I went through all of that muck for nothing. I had dreamed of using my foibles and follies to reach out and perhaps help others into the light which I had found. Not writing my story meant I went through it all in vain.

And then.

The Hunger Games happened. My 11 year old daughter was super into reading and was crazy in love with The Hunger Games. Without having really read any new YA fiction, I thought, “you know, it would be cool to write a book as a way of bonding with her.” So, I brainstormed plot ideas with her and began to write “The Butterfly Prophecy.” Nine months later, like a slimy red squiggling cherub, it was born, and thus began my love for writing YA fiction. The deal was sealed when I began reading it as well, finishing the entire Hunger Games trilogy in a week and moving on to other amazing YA fiction books.

Here’s what I learned during that first “pregnancy:”

“Fiction” does not equate to “unserious.” Some of the most powerful, life and world-changing books were–and are–works of fiction. I learned that I can use all of the experiences in my past to transform my work into something real, gripping, and fulfilling. Though that first novel won’t see the light of day, the second and third will, and they are filled with powerful moments, emotion, and flavor from my past mistakes, heartbreak, insight, etc.

The truth is, almost anyone can write a book. But if you want yours to stand out, stand up on its own two feet and speak to people, drawing from your own life experiences, especially the negative ones, is something that is not only helpful, but in my opinion, necessary.

The thing I love about writing YA fiction, is that I can transform the wreckage of my past into the lifeblood that brings my characters, and my story, to life. And it doesn’t have to be about me. I don’t have to write a memoir in order to use my past to shed light on the lives of others. Through the writing of fiction, my characters can do that and leave me and my ego out of it.

My third novel (first to be published), The Tree Makers (Edgy YA Dystopian/Sci-Fi/Horror), is scheduled for release on July 4th, and I’m very excited to share it with the world. Stay tuned for more info 🙂

Until next time, writerly friends . . . .

Turn that sh#t to gold and write on! 😉

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2 thoughts on “The Writer’s Alchemy: Transforming the Wreckage of Your Past into Novel Gold

  1. Great post! I get so frustrated when people dismiss the books I read as “unserious”. Yes, the setting or the plot can sometimes be a little out there and unrealistic, but the struggles the characters go through are real.

    Follow up question: Did you finish the memoir?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have not yet finished the memoir. I’ve been so wrapped up in my fiction that I decided the memoir could wait a few years, if not decades. I’m having too much fun! 😉 Thanks for your response.

    Like

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