That’s an expression I’ve heard all my life…”write what you know!”
So I chose a zombie apocalypse. (yeah…I never was the sharpest knife in the drawer)
Let’s face it, beyond what I’ve learned from books and movies, I have no real world experience with either subject (that’s a good thing, right?) and that makes things a little bit harder. You catch yourself excited about an idea or a concept only to remember that it’s been done before. But someone once told me, “There’s only so many ways that you can write about Abraham Lincoln being shot before it all sounds like plagiarism.”
It’s the same love story. It’s the same brush stroke. It’s the same fear of the unknown. It’s the same three chords. I suppose it’s what you do with it, and how others perceive it, that makes art last. It’s all in the imagination.
I’m not as far along in the process as I had hoped to be. I’m a planner, a micro-manager, a victim of OCD. Ask anyone that helped me out with Rocky Horror last year. I still have the notebook that I used to design the set, write light cue ideas, plan the costumes, start choreography, and block the whole show…a full 3 months before auditions were held. In the end, the final product was not that far off from what I had envisioned at the start.
Naturally, I assumed writing would follow the same mechanical process. I took notes. I read books. I took notes from the books. I plotted and I planned and I conceived. And then, I sat down in front of a computer…and froze.
I can see about 75% of the story in my mind, playing out like a movie. I’ve even heard the soundtrack. I cannot, however, put these visions into words. But I keep plugging away. Some days I can’t stop typing, the words come so easily. Other days, I stare at the screen for three hours and accomplish nothing. Oh wella. “But I know zombies,” I think to myself. “I know how this is supposed to go.” Or do I?
The entire concept of me developing this story came from a farm stand in front of an abandoned building at a crossroads along the drive between here and the beach. I hate that intersection; it scares me. And yet, I love that intersection for the very same reason. I’ve seen it at sunrise, at sunset, and all points in between. I’ve always thought it looked like something out of a creepy movie. Add to that my love (and irrational fear) of all things zombie, and BAM! Story idea! I had the prologue of the book written so fast. Thousands of words spilled out of my brain and onto the page. And then…they stopped. Color me frustrated.
I’ve come to realize that the days I write the most are the days when I’m talking about something I have a real connection to; a physical memory that jars my senses. I have a few of the major bases covered, but I think I need more if I am going to truly write what I know.
What’s helped so far?
1. The intersection. Obviously, this location set things in motion. So, I stepped outside of my comfort zone (and pushed Caitlyn and Rylie over the edge with me) and pulled the car to the side of the road on two separate occasions. The first was just before sunset. I took pictures from each direction of the crossroads as I walked the path of my protagonist for a few moments. The second time, we actually went inside the abandoned building and took pictures in there as well.
2. Research study participation. Here’s one time where having CF has paid off. I have so much life experience in hospitals and clinics (add to that the medical training that I received in college). And this year, I became part of a research study, which has allowed me to see behind the curtain, so to speak. I’ve been in the labs, felt the machines, and know the lingo.
3. My friends. If you’ve ever read anything that I’ve written over the years, you’ll know that I have a tendency to write as though I’m talking directly to you. First-person trumps third-person in my book any day. I’m also a fan of conversational dialogue littered with pop culture references; Kevin Smith films and some early Tarantino for example. Love it! And my friends provide that for me. My characters talk the way we talk. They are an amalgam of many members of the Bubble. My friends inspire me and they make me laugh, and that, in turn, is what brings my ‘friends’ on the page to life.
Those three things are mainly what have kept this going. But could it be enough? I have plans for my characters, plans that will put them in many different circumstances. Do I “know” enough to actually write them? I’ve noticed that I tend to go back and look at the pictures from the crossroads a lot, or at least whenever I need to get my head back in the game. So I decided to commit to memory some other images, and/or physical memories that might help. I’ve revisited the pictures from our adventure in Chattanooga earlier this year (some are visually inspiring) and it brings to mind what it felt like to be stranded, hungry, thirsty, walking a lonely highway in completely inappropriate shoes. I think back to the last time we went camping and remember what it felt like to walk through the woods, the smell of cooking a piece of meat over an open fire, the way the smell of smoke and leaves cling to your hair and clothing, and the dampness you feel on your skin when you wake up to a silent world just before dawn. I remember what it felt like last year to shoot a gun; the power, the force, the noise (ugh). I remember what it was like when we went a week with no power early last summer; living without electronics or lights, no fans or a/c, no access to my breathing treatments. (This also reminds me of the many blizzards endured in NY as a child, only instead of no power and a ton of Carolina heat/humidity, we had no power and no heat, keeping milk jugs in the snow on the back stoop, and it was just so cold.) Recently, I was taken to a Revolutionary War era cemetery and chapel out in the middle of lowcountry nothingness. Again, I took pictures and committed to memory every sight, sound, and smell, cataloging them in the file cabinet drawers of my mind.
But it’s still not enough.
And so, I’ve decided that over the next few weeks, I need to plan a few day trips. I need to take advantage of the hours that Rylie is in school and Garrett is at work and I need to get in the car and go. I want to scout out a location for one of the places I see in my mind. I want to follow a few roads and see where they take me. I want to spend a day taking pictures of places that are abandoned, burned-out, and condemned looking. (There are a number of these places along the way to the beach that I intend to stop and photograph the next time I drive down). I want–no–I need to create a slideshow in my mind that I can reference whenever I need to drop a character into a particular situation.
Don’t worry…I’ll be careful. I know this type of research and recon didn’t work out so well for David Duchovny in Kalifornia. Perhaps it can be done Time Lord style? Bring a companion? We’ll see.
So, what DO I know? I know I trust my senses. My memories can transport me to different places and times, hence my characters can go there as well. I know I have an irrational fear of death and dying and zombies TERRIFY me. So…we’re good there. I have a functioning knowledge of medical science as well as science fiction (oooh oooh oooh). And I know people. I know how they engage me, entertain me, infuriate me, console me, protect me, inspire me, abandon me, and even give me butterflies. If it works on me, it will work on the fictional people.
And what SHOULD I know? I should know what it feels like to physically be in some of these places and situations. And I need to know what it means to be terrified for real–not just in that zombies scare me when I think about them (or read about them or watch them on TV). And not in that I-hate-storms-and-loud-noises way either. No…I need to be physically traumatized. I may have to suck it up and go to Campground Massacre this year. (ugh…not looking forward to that).
I won’t stop writing, but I do believe that the more information that I can absorb and store in my mind, the easier it will be for my imagination to translate into actual words. It’s time I knew something.
[Note how easy it was for me to log into facebook and drone on and on in a blog/note. Frack.]