Writing, Therapy, and Creating Fiction

February 8, 2006

One of the most useful tools in creative and personal development is the journal or diary. Some people take this a step further, and keep a public journal or blog.

The diary is where you can experiment with your creative spirit. You take the raw material of your life, your experiences in the moment of that life, and immortalize them for your own purposes. Writing it all down helps you define it, unravel it, understand it. It keeps you within the experience as well as allowing you some objectivity, along with your subjectivity. It helps you through the rough patches of life, and it also captures memories of the joys, so you can revisit them and remind yourself that many wonderful things take place in your life.

And then it becomes fuel for your fiction.

This is where many writers falter.

Simply because “that’s the way it happened” doesn’t mean it will work in the story. Let a diary entry be a jumping-off point, not a prison for your piece.

Instead of a laundry list, “Me and Bobby walked to the lake. We sat in the moonlight. He kissed me. I was nervous’, turn it into something that gives your reader the sensations of the breeze, the moon, the water. What does lake water in the moonlight smell like? How did the two characters involved act out their nervousness? Sweating? Giggling? Perhaps the Spirit of the Lake partially slid out of the water to observe the kiss, and then returned to the depths of the lake with a sigh.

Take what actually happened and make it more. Let the real people be inspiration for characters. If you do your job as a writer well, pretty soon the character will take on a life of his or her own, bearing little resemblance to the initial person who inspired it.

Let a diary entry inspire the creative process, not put a damper on it.

One of the most popular exercises in my dialogue workshops is this: I split the class into groups of 3. Each group gets a topic. Two people have an actual conversation, while the third person jots it down. They talk for about two minutes. We take the red pens and cross out all the boring bits, which ends up cutting about 75%. Then I go around again and give each speaker a character to play, with one or two specific characteristics to apply to the conversation. We use bits from the original conversation and then we create bits that make it a good story. We’ve had cars turn into dogs, locations change from Texas to Montreal, started a romance with what was in life a spur-of-the-moment dispute between strangers, genders change, added children, removed children, changed physical descriptions and come up with careers light-years away from the touchstone “reality”.

And wound up with some darned good storytelling.

We’ve used reality as a diving board into fiction. Let the realities in your life cause expansion, not constriction, in your fiction.


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