The human brain is a fascinating creature. It will hold on to some memories and let others go like flicking a light switch on and off. It can create new paths with nothing but old lessons learned. Every writer’s brain began somewhere. We often take for granted what this means to our writing later on. Our early years not only shape the people we become, but also shape how we filter the world around us. Call it culture or call it experience, but what happens when we are raised in a certain environment affects the way we tell our stories, even when those stories are set someplace completely different.
I discovered the phenomenon when I was writing my first novel, Fixing Destiny. It's set in Northern Maine, hell and far away from my tiny hometown of Saratoga, Wyoming. But the people and places that line the streets of Southtown Harbor took on the flavor of places from my past.
It was easy for me to write drawly dialogue and scenes that painted dripping, small-town charm, because they were in my memories and from the places that feel like home in my heart. I knew how open space felt to the senses, and how crushingly lonely it was to drive across the empty darkness between towns at night. I knew what a billion stars looked like. I knew the particular golden shade of light that catches dust in the headlights on an old country road. I knew the keen eye of small-town busybodies, and the true warmth hidden in the folds of isolated communities. These are the places I come from.
The challenge for me, as a writer, is to go beyond what I know by heart and be able to write as though the foreign is my place. If I had the means to bank roll a trip to every corner of the world I could easily expand the truth behind my fiction. For now, I make do with imagination, transposition of people and knowledge I do have, and as many resources I can find on the Internet.
No matter how sweet and beautiful our memories are, its important for us to step beyond the comfort of them to experience new and different places, people, and views. It will help us to be more true to the worlds we create with our words.
Curious about the parallels of Southtown Harbor and Saratoga? Check out my novel at Amazon.
Have you, either knowingly or unknowingly, added real memories to your fictional stories? How have you stepped out of your comfort zone as a writer either in character or setting?