Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Pandora’s Box of Having ‘Been There’

By Bonnie Randall 

Part of the How They Do It Series (Monthly Contributor)

Jorge Luis Borges said “A writer must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.”

This month’s contribution is not so much a how-to as it is a reflection—and perhaps a challenge, if any want to take it.

I’ve recently begun work with a marketer in order to jack visibility and sales of my novel, Divinity & The Python, and part of what she has challenged me to do is to list every single thing that inspired that novel, and write miniature essays on them. An apt pupil, I created a list I felt was quite comprehensive. It covers the typical milieu I find deeply inspiring; things like geography, relationships, and the unique peril that can be wrought by the paranormal. And yet for someone who preaches from the pulpit of Anne Rice’s mantra: “Go where the emotion is” I shocked myself in that, within my collection of mini-essays, I had failed to include feelings. I’d overlooked emotion (intentionally? Subconsciously?) until I saw the aforementioned Borges quote on Mark David Gerson’s Facebook page (and if you do not follow Mark David Gerson I implore you to do so; he shares beautiful, moving reflections on writing there).

Discomfort, and certainly its cousin, Pain, are the basis, I think, for inspiration. These concepts are the architecture of the tension gurus like Donald Maass push us to create in our fiction. They are the obstacles we allow our heroes to triumph over. The more discomfort the hero feels, the greater the pay-off feels in the end.

Except…pain. Pain doesn’t feel good, and authentic pain forces us into the crucible of memories and experiences we would rather forget. In the novel I am currently shopping, my heroine, Beth, experiences a moment of exquisite humiliation, a scene crucial to the plot, and an encounter both she and my hero need to endure for the entire story to work. And yet…. I wrote up to and around that scene for weeks, unable to tackle it, and feeling much like a diver sprinting up to the edge of the high-board…only to skitter away, afraid of the leap. Perhaps it would have been easier if Beth’s indignity was not so much like an experience I’d had myself—yet it was, and even attempting to ‘go there’ generated such profound discomfort I had a visceral reaction: recoil.

In retrospect, I sincerely wish I would have kept track of how long it took me to finally approach that scene and dive in, teeth bared, and write it. Yet I do recall that when I at last did so I merely crafted the skeleton, then backed away, cowed again. It was only when I began to cautiously toss some meat on those bones—and to feel—that her experience finally began to breathe, then pulse, then scream with discomfort. Tackling it again and again I found I was able to fully embrace every bit of the minutiae I’d once felt in having been publicly castigated and, in ‘gifting’ those feelings back to my character, I at last had a scene that wasn’t just uncomfortable to write, it is uncomfortable to read, and it leaves the reader hating my hero for what he did to Beth…and that’s precisely the vein I was stabbing for.

But good grief, was it difficult!

And yet… “A writer must think that everything that happens to him is a resource.” It’s true. And with that, I challenge you to either:
  • Consider the Borges quote and revisit a time of your own deep misfortune, humiliation, or embarrassment. Sit in that feeling then give a similar circumstance to your character / a character. How authentically real does their experience become when you write it from a place of having been there? 

Or, if you have perhaps already crafted a scene like this:
  • Share what that experience was like. How did you screw up the courage to approach it? How did you pull back out of it? How triumphant did you feel when it was done? (Because it is a little like slaying a beast!) 


Congratulate yourself. Writing is its own reward—but that doesn’t mean it’s not a brave endeavor.

Peace, All


Bonnie Randall is a Canadian writer who lives between her two favorite places—the Jasper Rocky Mountains and the City of Champions: Edmonton, Alberta. A clinical counselor who scribbles fiction in notebooks whenever her day job allows, Bonnie is fascinated by the relationships people develop—or covet—with both the known and unknown, the romantic and the arcane.

Her novel Divinity & The Python, a paranormal romantic thriller, was inspired by a cold day in Edmonton when the exhaust rising in the downtown core appeared to be the buildings, releasing their souls.

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About Divinity & The Python

Divinity - Where deception and desire both hide in the dark...

The Cards Forecast Work

Shaynie Gavin is so much more than the sexy siren who mixes cocktails at The Python. A carpenter with a business plan, Shaynie is trying to amass enough funds to launch her own dream - Divinity, a place where up-cycled furniture from the past is sold alongside Tarot readings forecasting the future - and all in a setting that could not be more perfect: a former funeral parlor. Shaynie's belief that Divinity is attuned with the passions, the loves, and even the lies of its departed souls, allow her to feel satisfied when the cards she draws there reveal Wands, the Tarot's symbol for work. And yet...Shaynie would be so grateful if the Tarot would also, just once, illuminate a Hellnight from her past. A lost evening whose scars still slither over her skin, Hellnight haunts Shaynie. Yet when she calls the question of that chilling evening into her deck...

The Cards Forecast Love

...and love appears in the form of pro hockey star Cameron Weste. Weste is haunted by scars and superstitions of his own, and he wants Shaynie's Tarot to answer far deeper questions than she first guesses this sexy Lothario to be capable of. Who knew Weste was this intense? The Tarot, apparently. And yet...

The Cards Forecast The Devil

When Cameron Weste lands in her life, a stalker surfaces too, dropping clues to a connection between Shaynie, Cameron, and her lost, brutal Hellnight. Suddenly every card warns of deception, and nowhere feels safe. Shaynie and Cameron have to fight for their love - and their lives - as The Devil, their stalker, is determined to turn the Death Card for them both.

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