Saturday, May 1, 2010

What's in Your Closet

By Keith Fisher

One of my critique group partners worked a funny, personal memory into her story the other day. She gave the experience to a character, and showed us the feelings with great clarity. For me, it was fun to know it really happened, and fun to see my friend relive the passion.

I think all writers weave bits of their personal lives into their stories, but I thought of a metaphor and a practical application for using your experiences in a story.

Obviously you can’t use your whole life. Even if you’ve lived in the extreme, it would be a memoir and you’d lose the freedom of fiction, but . . .

We’ve all heard the metaphor, used by the good folks in the mental health profession, of cleaning out your closet. They urge us to drag our fears and bad experiences out of our closets and face them in the cold light of day.

I’m not a counselor, but I know a few, so I’ll rely on them to correct me if I’m wrong.

The truth is, that some closets are bigger than others, but we all have closets. During our lives, we toss things into those closets and quickly shut the door. Then years later, something happens to open the door. The contents spill out all over the floor and we must face the mess. Hopefully, it doesn’t happen in a crowded room full of people that you’re trying to impress.

It’s easier to remove one thing at a time, facing each nightmare on your terms. After dealing with the memory, file it into another place.

Writers, when they’re plotting, tend to draw from the memories in their closets. Research is harder than picking our brain. Sometimes it’s a subtle nuance, something we’ve seen someone do. Other times it’s the memory of a special Christmas from your childhood. It can even be a terrible nightmare, forgotten long ago, and tossed into the back of your closet.

I know a writer who drew from feelings she’d had while dealing with an unpleasant situation. It made the story believable and had a cleansing affect on the writer. I know others who write their mother-in-law into a story and make them the hated villain.

I wrote a former boss into a book once, when I finished, I marveled at my feelings. I never knew I let him effect me so much.

Writers tend to notice things others don’t see. The polished craft of writing helps the writer to tell the story in minute detail. It’s a wonderful gift to be able to clean your closets and give characters things to do on the page.

So, I return to the title question, what’s in your closet?


Cathy Witbeck said...

What an interesting idea, Keith. My closet is so full, I can hardly shut the door. If I open it I need to wear a helmet in case something falls out. I guess that means there is a lot to work with, eh.

Kimberly Job said...

You guys always have fun when I'm gone. What's up with that?

My closet is a dark and scary place. I peek inside occasionally, but quickly shut the door, because I'm afraid of the monsters lurking inside.

Heather Justesen said...

My closet, stuffed full? Noooo! I've put it all on paper! I'm sure you'll read more of it later. =)

Anna Maria Junus said...

I once wrote my mother-in-law into a short story. I murdered her.

It was very cathartic.

She's not my mother-in-law anymore.

That was even more cathartic.