Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Gut Reactions

Happy November, everyone! I hope everyone's having a good time with the new month, now that the horror posts of Halloween are over. I'm planning some posts about warm, happy stories, but sadly, today is not one of those days. I want to talk about what to do when, in writing a story, you have to describe a physical sensation your narrator is going through.

Personally, I think this is difficult. For one thing, when the narrator is looking at another character who, say, feels like he's going to throw up, he can describe what that person looks like, and it's relatively harmless to do that. Most of the time, when someone is sick, his face turns pale and he sags, right? However, when describing nausea from the narrator's view, you have to describe it more in depth: the illness, the pain, the constant worrying that she, the narrator, is going to lose it. You have to do this in the voice your narrator would use, and much of the time, you have to know how it feels. It greatly helps when writing about feeling sick if you've felt sick.

This is another snag I come up against when writing my narrator's reactions to things. Not just physical illness, but also emotional reactions. I live a very comfortable life. I don't remember breaking any bones, and I haven't been hurt or sick all that much. I haven't experienced crippling loss or mental illness. So, how on Earth can I write from the perspective of characters who have? I can't go out and break an arm every time I want to write about a character who gets injured in that way, and, obviously, I wouldn't want to.

I guess this all comes down to the whole "write what you know" thing. The question I raise is this: is it important to have experienced personally everything your characters go through? I don't think you can, especially when you write fantasy or adventure. Most writers live normal, boring lives, at least, outside their heads. Sometimes you have to bridge the gap between what you know and what your characters know.

So how to fix this? Well, there are some ways I use. Currently, I am writing from the perspective of a character who has panic attacks. I don't get panic attacks, so this is the first thing I do when writing from his viewpoint: I mentally go back to a class I took on psychology, where I learned the symptoms of a panic attack. A lot of writers, when they don't have the personal experience, do research. Interviews, fact sheets, anything they can use to make the writing seem true to what a real life experience would be like. The other thing I do is enhance the experience I do have. I may not know what a panic attack feels like, but I know what it's like to be afraid, and all the physical sensations that come with it.

Combining the two, I feel I can make an accurate portrayal of what a panic attack would feel like for someone experiencing it. This, like everything else on this blog, is just my opinion and personal style of writing. And, as always, I'd be interested to hear other views, so comment away and I'll see you again next week. Don't forget to check out my publisher's Kickstarter. My book, The Shifting, is one of the $25 pledge gifts.

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