How to Use Personal Experiences to Write Stories That Matter

 

I recently read insights I’ve heard before but were worth hearing again as I prepare to write my next romance:

  1. Ask myself what matters to me, stirs me, and bothers me;
  2. look into my personal life for experiences that accompany these three things; then
  3. write something that says something.*

Here’s an experience I might use:

When I was in fifth grade, my family lived in Norfolk, VA. My sister, Marcia, was in ninth grade. One winter day, Marcia, her friend, Jean**, my friend, Patsy**, and I went to investigate a reported rare sight. The neighborhood lake, where a two-year-old boy had drowned the summer before, had frozen over.

At the lake, people walked on the ice. A boy ran and jumped on his sled and slid across the ice. We judged the ice solid. I itched to feel the frozen water under my feet.

Our group walked on the ice farther than other people had dared. Then, clustered together, we all fell through the ice in one whoosh.

Non-swimmers, Jean and Patsy panicked and pawed the ice edge.  We tried to get a purchase on the ice rim, but the ice caved every time we applied pressure. Our soaked heavy coats and boots worked against us. I questioned whether we could get out before we drowned.

Soon, I was so fatigued I decided to give up. As soon as I was under the water and the bottom debris touched my legs, I gained renewed desire to live and worked my way to the surface.

Finally, the ice edge held firm. While treading water, Marcia shoved Jean out. Jean tramped away without looking back. How could a friend do that?

Marcia pushed Patsy out. My friend asked if she should help us. Marcia told her to leave the precarious edge and go home.

I pulled myself out. Marcia called to me. Exhausted, she asked me to help her. I admired her heroism, and love stirred. And now, she needed me. Shivering and teeth chattering, I stepped to the dangerous edge and extended my reddened hand. She linked her little finger with mine. Obviously, she needed only sisterly support and hoisted herself onto the ice surface.

I spotted my mitten on the other side of the large cavity. I gasped. Mommy had knit that mitten for me. I asked, “Should I get my mitten?” Marcia said, “No.” My stomach sank. Why had we been so stupid? How would I tell Mommy I’d left the mitten?

People on the lake hadn’t come to our rescue. They stared at us as we trudged toward home. I was too cold and drained to care. Once home, my mother was angry with us for our foolishness. My lips trembled as I told her I’d left my mitten. She ordered us upstairs to peel off our freezing wet clothes and get in a tub of warm water.

Mommy entered the bathroom and gave us each a shot of brandy. It burned my throat, but I warmed inside. Mommy wouldn’t have given us the brandy if her love weren’t greater than her anger.

Use personal experiences to write stories that say something. Click to tweet.

What do you think mattered to me, stirred me, and bothered me? 

* “Making It Matter” by Deb Caletti (Writer’s Digest January 2018)

** Not their real names.

COOKING UP KISSES

Five scrumptious e-book romance novellas, all for $0.99 or free on KindleUnlimited. Here’s the link.  Here are the blurbs:

 

 

 

THE INVISIBLE WOMAN IN A RED DRESS BY ZOE M. McCARTHY

Candace Parks lives a passionless life in Richmond. The computer programmer returns to the empty family home in the Blue Ridge Mountains solely to evaluate her job, faith, and boyfriend. Her high school crush, Trigg Alderman, who barely remembers her, visits his Gram next door. Sorting her life out? How about nothing of the sort!

 

LOVE ON A DARE BY MARY MANNERS

Alana Mulvaney’s life is in a holding pattern. Consumed by day-to-day operations of the family business, Alana has no time for fun or romance. But a little fun and a whole lot of romance is just what Alana’s sisters have in mind when they learn childhood friend Donovan O’Reilly has returned to town.
Donovan O’Reilly has loved Alana Mulvaney since he moved in next door to her at the age of five. But he broke her heart when he was forced to leave town, and now that he’s returned home to Winding Ridge he has a second chance to prove himself. But is it too late to earn her trust…and her love…again?

HUMMINGBIRD KISSES BY DELIA LATHAM

Toni Littlebird believes that when she meets the man God created for her, she’ll know—and she’ll love him in that very moment.
But then Dax Hendrick roars into Hummingbird Hollow on a noisy, crippled Harley, stinking up the air and chasing away her beloved hummingbirds. One look into the intruder’s eyes and her heart sinks. He’s “The One.” She’d been right about knowing, but wrong about something far more important: She will never love this man!

HEARTS ON THE HARBOR BY ROBIN BAYNE

Cara Peyton is content with her life, her trendy Baltimore bookshop is perfect for her. But when her ex turns up to remodel the store, asking for a second chance, she’s torn and unsure about risking her heart again. Can he convince her to trust him, and God, before the job is finished?

 

 

HIS VALENTINE PROMISE BY DORA HIERS

Another Valentine’s Day and Quinn Randolph prefers to spend it with her sweet rescue lab. Who needs men and their broken promises? Especially Pierce Karson’s! Years ago, his desertion shattered her. Now he’s trying to steal the property she targeted to expand her florist shop! Pierce only wants to belong…and for Quinn to choose him. His Valentine Promise…

Show Your Characters’ Wounds

image by DreamPixer

The last two weeks, I’ve given examples showing characters’ love for each other and examples showing characters’ flaws.

This week, I give an example of a character exhibiting a wound. I chose being stalked. I consulted The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Psychological Trauma (Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. For brevity, I offer a telling synopsis that depicts a woman wounded from being stalked.

Lola

Artist Lola has entered an oil painting in a contest. Damien’s oil hangs next to Lola’s. He opens a conversation. She’s glad to have the company. Damien offers a suggestion of how she could have improved her painting. His boldness surprises her.

Lola’s oil wins. Damien looks confused, then his face reddens. He glares at her and stomps away. Lola feels guilty that she’s the cause of Damien’s anger.

The next day, Lola sees Damien at an outside market. She wonders if she should wave, but decides against it. He made her uncomfortable at the art show. With the size of Chicago, she won’t see him again anyway.

image by geralt

But she does—the next day in a grocery store. He doesn’t acknowledge her. She doubts the coincidence. Is he stalking her? Her skin crawls.

The following day, she spots Damien looking at a magazine at a newsstand outside her apartment building. Her heart pounds. What are his intentions?  Unless he actually does something, the police won’t stop his stalking. Why had she been friendly with Damien at the show?

After weeks, Damien begins glaring at her and making threatening gestures. She can’t sleep and is exhausted during the days. Her clothes hang on her body.

Then his stalking abruptly stops. He’s probably out of town. Or in jail. He’ll be back.

An acquaintance, Cade, asks her out. Like Damien, does Cade see how weak she is and wants to hurt her? Obviously, her judgment about men is flawed. At the art show, she should’ve recognized Damien was a threat.

Lola turns down Cade. Will her rejection upset him? She hurries home and locks the door. Is Cade lurking in the hallway outside her door?

image by meditations

On the street, Tom, her friend from art classes, comes up behind her and covers her eyes. She screams, scaring Tom. She apologizes. Before she can stop him, Tom snaps a photo of her. Lola ends the conversation. She shouldn’t be too friendly with Tom, who looks like Damien. He could become obsessed.

Tom and several guys are friends on Facebook. Will Tom put the photo he took of her on Facebook? She shuts down her Facebook account.

Lola finds excuses to stay home from church and art class. Her best friend, Caitlyn, becomes annoyed at her frequent calls and invitations to come over. Lola needs Caitlyn to help her make good decisions about attending art shows and putting her works in galleries. She dreamed the owner of a gallery who was interested in her paintings started stalking her.

image by ParentRap

Lola hopes Caitlyn will join her at a self-defense class. Better yet, she could move. Then she could stop looking through the slits between her curtains every few minutes.

Show characters’ wounds through their behaviors. Click to tweet.

What other behaviors might a stalking victim display?

 

 

COOKING UP KISSES

Five scrumptious e-book romance novellas, all for $0.99 or free on KindleUnlimited. The last few weeks, steadily ranked in the top 10 in Christian Fiction Collections. Here’s the link.  Here are the blurbs:

 

 

 

THE INVISIBLE WOMAN IN A RED DRESS BY ZOE M. McCARTHY

Candace Parks lives a passionless life in Richmond. The computer programmer returns to the empty family home in the Blue Ridge Mountains solely to evaluate her job, faith, and boyfriend. Her high school crush, Trigg Alderman, who barely remembers her, visits his Gram next door. Sorting her life out? How about nothing of the sort!

 

LOVE ON A DARE BY MARY MANNERS

Alana Mulvaney’s life is in a holding pattern. Consumed by day-to-day operations of the family business, Alana has no time for fun or romance. But a little fun and a whole lot of romance is just what Alana’s sisters have in mind when they learn childhood friend Donovan O’Reilly has returned to town.
Donovan O’Reilly has loved Alana Mulvaney since he moved in next door to her at the age of five. But he broke her heart when he was forced to leave town, and now that he’s returned home to Winding Ridge he has a second chance to prove himself. But is it too late to earn her trust…and her love…again?

HUMMINGBIRD KISSES BY DELIA LATHAM

Toni Littlebird believes that when she meets the man God created for her, she’ll know—and she’ll love him in that very moment.
But then Dax Hendrick roars into Hummingbird Hollow on a noisy, crippled Harley, stinking up the air and chasing away her beloved hummingbirds. One look into the intruder’s eyes and her heart sinks. He’s “The One.” She’d been right about knowing, but wrong about something far more important: She will never love this man!

HEARTS ON THE HARBOR BY ROBIN BAYNE

Cara Peyton is content with her life, her trendy Baltimore bookshop is perfect for her. But when her ex turns up to remodel the store, asking for a second chance, she’s torn and unsure about risking her heart again. Can he convince her to trust him, and God, before the job is finished?

 

HIS VALENTINE PROMISE BY DORA HIERS

Another Valentine’s Day and Quinn Randolph prefers to spend it with her sweet rescue lab. Who needs men and their broken promises? Especially Pierce Karson’s! Years ago, his desertion shattered her. Now he’s trying to steal the property she targeted to expand her florist shop! Pierce only wants to belong…and for Quinn to choose him. His Valentine Promise…

Show Your Characters’ Flaws

image by SnapLaunch

Last week, I wrote examples of showing love using behaviors from The Positive Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Attributes (Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi).

So, this week I give examples of characters exhibiting character flaws. I’ve used The Negative Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Flaws (Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi).

See if you can identify the flaw each character portrays: Vain, Manipulative, Needy, Apathetic, Resentful, Suspicious, Evasive?

image by PublicDomainPictures

Brad

Brad plopped onto the booth’s bench across from Mac.

Mac checked the time. “I was about to leave. First you drop out of the chess club, then you leave our tennis foursome hanging, and now you’re thirty minutes late for our monthly lunch?”

A strand of greasy hair stuck in the crease between Brad’s eyelid and brow. He shrugged one shoulder. He should’ve stayed in bed.

“Forget it. It’s OK.” Mac pointed at Brad’s shirt. “Your shirt’s buttoned wrong.”

Brad gave Mac a humorless smile. If only he had the energy to care about buttons.

Chad

“Why didn’t you call last night?”

Chad stepped back from Janice and crossed his arms over his chest. “I had things I had to do.”

“What things were those?”

“Is your dog OK? You said he was hit by a car.”

“Togo’s hind leg needed stiches, but he’s fine. You didn’t answer when I called you.”

Chad shifted his feet and ran a hand through his hair. He couldn’t tell her he was taking guitar lessons from a woman. She wouldn’t understand. “I was playing guitar with a friend. Time got away from me. Would you want me to call you after midnight?”

image by Wounds_and_Cracks

Bella

“Deanna, would you share with the director my experience on the stage?”

Deanna wrinkled her brow. “Tom won’t listen to me.”

“But you’ve made the cut on the last three shows, Deanna. You’re almost a star.”

“Hardly. My parts have had less than ten lines. And if I bug Tom, I might not make the next cut.”

Bella narrowed her eyes. “Deanna, you know the only reason I didn’t get the lead part in the last production was because Carmine shamelessly flirted with Tom. And you were the one who introduce Carmine to him. I’m only asking you to make up for that and mention to him the roles I’ve portrayed.”

Deanna paled. “I regret introducing Carmine to Tom. But, Bella, I know anything I say to Tom about you will only irritate him.”

Bella turned her head away from Deanna. Deanna was a tough nut. Bella worked up tears, then faced Deanna. “I thought we were friends.

image by coffeemorning

Felix

Felix signaled for Max to leave the group and join him at the water cooler.

“What’s up?” Max said.

“I thought you said Greg had already made his choice for the open manager position.”

Max shrugged. “That’s what the grapevine says.”

“Then why were you over there joking with Greg?”

“Relax, Felix,” Max said. “I had no ulterior motives. Besides, I don’t have the numbers to get the job.”

Felix searched Max’s face. Was he telling the truth? “How about sending me your sales spreadsheets for the past year.”

Show characters’ flaws through their behaviors. Click to tweet.

What were the four character flaws?