Monday, December 13, 2010

Inspiration in Crisis?

Today's post comes courtesy of guest blogger & Twitter tweeter extraordinaire Patty Blount (@PattyBlount). Check out her blog "To tell a compelling story..." when you get a chance. And tell her I said "hi!" -- A. H.

Twitter pals Ami (@museinks), Jeannie (@jeannie_moon) and I were chatting about writerly mental illness last weekend… you know, are we crazy because we write or do we write because we’re crazy? As conversations often do, this one took a turn toward the topic of real-life crises and how we frequently use them in our WIPs. Here we are, a bunch of authors writing fiction, excited by the prospect of injecting more realism into our work. Ironic, no? Wait, it gets better.

Write what you know, the experts always say. Easier said than done, particularly if you don’t know that one thing that would really nail a pivotal scene. For example, I used to study self-defense. One thing I’ve learned is that TV fights aren’t nearly as painful and bloody as they should be.

In one of my classes, we learned how to make a weapon from the contents of our purses. Things like keys, tweezers, even a credit card.

To demonstrate, the instructor ran the edge of a credit card under my nose. The pain took me to my knees. I couldn’t see from the all-faucets-on reaction that pain induced. There was no blood in this demonstration because this was a light movement. With a bit of pressure and speed however, I’m convinced a credit card could slice a jugular. I never forgot that lesson or the pain. I now make sure I over-write fight scenes (it’s a lot easier to delete extra information than to add it in later).

But how do you craft the scenes that involve, oh, say a groin kick when you lack a penis and therefore, have absolutely no frame of reference?

Research, baby. I managed this by turning to the Internet for help. Several men rose (ha!) to the occasion and described, in excrutiating detail, how it feels to be kicked in the nuts, which injected just the right amount of realism into my YA manuscript, SEND. Such valuable second-hand research must be preserved in case it’s needed in the future, so I now keep a file of details, like what it looks like every time my husband falls down the stairs.

He does this a lot.

Ami noted that head wounds bleed. A lot. Actually, most wounds do. Even the ones that aren’t that serious.

Take last summer, for example. We were doing some work on the house and had a strip of drywall corner bead in the garage. My son walked into the garage, turned, and the tip of the strip tore a four-inch-long gash in his calf. He left a trail of blood from the garage into the downstairs bathroom.

By the time I got down the stairs to that room, he was standing in a bloody puddle. When I moved his hands away, my heart damn near stopped when I saw a gaping wound in his leg, revealing white pulp. I was certain he’d need immediate vascular surgery to repair this wound. We packed him into the car, two people keeping pressure on his leg and drove through red lights to the emergency room.

The Leg of Inspiration.
Thirteen stitches. Yep. That’s it. Just thirteen stitches and he was fine. According to my son, the initial wound didn’t hurt very much. It felt like a little scratch. When he looked down and saw the blood, he was more panicked than anything else.

The pain was immense when the doctor injected the local anesthetic over and over again. We had to hold him down for fear he’d kick the doctor, instinctively. And it itched as he healed.

I’ve committed all this to my file.

A writer never knows when a dose of realism is going to be needed.

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