Today a lot of people fix up their basements, but when I was younger most of the basements I entered were dingy and filled with memorabilia, broken appliances, file cabinets, tools, damaged furniture and dirt. It was a storage room for the past.
When we are writing, we have to go to the basements of our mind to retrieve stories, images, characters and settings. We might only use shards of recollections but nonetheless those bits of information are what make our stories unique.
What do you remember about your past that would help the future of one of your stories?
*What experiences do you remember? Can you use any one of those experiences when writing a scene? E.g. I recall being an overweight ten-year old in gymnastics. It was going to be my first time on the parallel bars and I was excited. I imagined myself flipping gracefully. I envisioned the other girls clapping and the instructor beaming with pride. Instead, I got a pat on the belly and a very rude comment from the instructor “You better lay off the snickers if you want to be good at this,” she said.
If I am writing a scene about disappointment, hurt feelings or embarrassment, I might pull up this memory to see what it evokes.
*What do you remember about your first crush? My first crush was on a boy who had his face painted like a clown. I was at a town festival. I was making my way to the leather tent because my father gave me money to buy a leather bracelet that had my name on it. (This was super special to me because I could never find my name on anything cool like barrettes, pencils, etc.) Just as I approached the tent the boy walked out of the adjacent one. My world stopped. Suddenly it wasn’t the bracelet I was thinking about any more. If I am writing a scene about a first crush, I revisit that moment.
*Do you remember an argument with a friend, a parent, a teacher?
*Think back to a day when you were happy, what was it that made you happy?
*Do you remember a time when you were injured?
*Who were the people of your neighborhood?
*What did the “popular kids” wear?
*What mistakes did you make? Did you ever skip school? Sneak a cigarette? Lie about where you were going?
*Where did you hang out?
*What was your first experience with death?
Grab a pen and paper and jot down ten things you remember from your past. (Mix and Match)
• 1. A person
• 2. An event
• 3. An experienced emotion
• 4. A destination
• 5. A situation
• 6. A lie (you told or were told)
• 7. A room
• 8. A piece of clothing
• 9. A scent
• 10. A conversation
Okay now it’s time to move on to attics. Think of the attic as where you are going. Yes you store things here too but they are to be used again. Take for example Holiday decorations, you have used them in the past but you have no idea what will be going on in your life the next time you bring them down so they are also part of your future.
The attic of our stories is the part where you tap into your hopes, dreams and predictions. The beginning of the story is the basement. The journey of the story is the attic.
*Where do you see yourself in ten years? (Can your character be pondering this same question?)
*What events can happen that will change the world? (Is your character a part of these events?)
*What are your worst fears? Can you create a scene that makes you confront these fears?
*What would be your dream come true?
*Who are people you may meet?
*What surprise would you love to receive?
Look at the above questions I listed and then review your answers from the first part of the exercise (Your past memories). Combine your past recollections with your future hopes to see how you might be inspired.
Take a look at any of your stories and try and pick out exact spots where you know you drew on the past (the basement). Do you remember a part of your story where you were stumped and had no idea how to move forward? Did you need to tap into your characters mind (attic) to see what their dreams, hopes, and desires were?
One of the things I find most fun when writing is the fact that I can create a past and a future. I have the ability to ensure the future for my character is exactly what I want it to be. I don’t have this same luxury in real life. In writing, everything could be certain if we choose it to be. If I want my character to become a law student, I could make that happen. I could also make her find the perfect mate, wear the best clothes, be given many awards and die peacefully in her bed.
In writing, there are basements and attics. The basement is where we have been and the attic is where we are heading. You can’t have a future if you never experienced a past. Use your life experiences when writing and you may find you create a future best seller.