Wednesday, July 27, 2011

How Mining Memories Can Help Your Writing

By Jennifer Wolf
Mining Memories is a concept I just read about today in Orson Scott Card's CHARACTERS AND VIEWPOINTS. It means going back to a specific place or time in your memory and seeing what you can glean for your writing. Since I'm visiting the town I grew up in, I thought this would be a perfect time for some memory mining. 
 I decided to take a little detour down memory lane.
I went by my old grade school and saw the big rock fire place on the playground. I remembered third grade after my best friend moved away. I was so lonely. One day I took a branch and swept the leaves into a little path up to the fireplace. Then I made circles of leaves and pretended the rock fireplace was a castle with a beautiful garden all around it. In the middle of my pretending, two girls asked me what I was doing. After I told them the three of us played with the magic fireplace castle every recess until the leaves all blew away and the snow started to fall.
Then I drove by our rival high school to remember my first kiss. It was late at night, and we'd spent the evening dragging main in the back of a pick-up with a guy I had a crush on. (Small town, lots of pick-up trucks, liberal seat-belt laws.) Dragging main basically means you drive up and down main street, wasting a lot of gas, hanging out with your friends, and meeting new ones. (This was before texting or Facebook.) Anyway, we traded cars in the parking lot of his school, our rival high school. I had to leave fast because I was late for my curfew. He walked me to my car. After I got in, he leaned in the window and kissed me. As soon as he turned around my friends were squealing, "Did he kiss you? Did he kiss you?" I was stunned and trying to drive, and trying to act nonchalant, like it wasn't my first kiss. I couldn't answer them until we were half-way home.
I drove around the farms near my mom's house and remembered floating the canals, swimming at the swimming hole, and bridge jumping in the summer. I remembered long horse rides and bike rides on the dirt trails in the fields. The farm that used to be my grandpa's and the field where we once kept the milk cows is now a housing development. I remember all the hours I spent working beside my dad and my grandpa, and thought about how those fields had eventually claimed both of them.
Then I went to the little cemetery where my dad and my grandpa, and even my great-great-grandpa are buried. A place where so many of the last names are familiar.
All of these bits and pieces of my life are the sum of my experience and the basis for my imagination. I sometimes get scared when I hear the phrase "write what you know," because as a small-town Idaho farm girl, what do I know that would be of any interest to anyone?

Orson Scott Card says the process of mining memories isn't about taking the same exact situation and telling it the same exact way. It's putting new characters into the situation, or twisting the situation into something totally new. It's all about playing the "what if?"game.
So maybe one of my characters will get her first kiss in the parking lot of a rival high school, or maybe a lonely little girl will create her own world out of leaves in the playground. Or maybe one of my characters will witness a murder in the parking lot of a rival high school, and maybe a lonely little girl will discover a porthole to another world in an old fireplace that's shaped like a castle.

As I sat down to write this post, I realized I was sitting next to the old Royal typewriter that I hammered out stories on when I was eight or ten. As I type away on my laptop, I can't help but think of how far I've come since then. A part of me will always be that lonely little girl on the playground, or the girl a hurried first kiss in the parking lot, or the even the girl who just realized the most gorgeous guy at school is standing by the barn and she's wearing her milking clothes, (that's an entirely different story).

And even if I will never be the girl who lives in the big city, or if I never go to a fantasy world, I still have me and all of my experiences. I know a piece of myself will go into every character I create. And thanks to Orson Scott Card, now I know that will be okay.

What memories can you mine for your novel or short story?

Author Bio:
Jennifer Shaw Wolf grew up on a farm in the tiny town of St. Anthony, Idaho. She spent cold Idaho mornings milking cows in the dark and attended a school where Hunter’s Education was part of the sixth grade curriculum. She’s always been a writer, whether it was sewing together books to read to her little brothers or starting an underground newspaper in sixth grade. She met the love of her life at Ricks College, (now BYU Idaho), after he dropped her on her head. She graduated from Ricks and then Brigham Young University, Provo with a degree in Broadcast Communications. Now she lives in beautiful, green, (rainy) Lacey, Washington with her husband and four kids. She loves to produce videos, ski, ride horses, and read, but really all she has time for is chasing kids and writing.  Her debut novel BREAKING BEAUTIFUL from Walker Publishers will be released in April 2012.


Anonymous said...

Excellent article. Thanks for sharing. I went home to visit recently and things don't look the same at all. Trees are full grown. The old home is gone.Time never stands still does it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this thoughtful information. I feel like I've been to Idaho. You painted a perfect word picture.
Most of us never take that road back home and bring it to our characters, or perhaps we do and we never notice.
TC Wyatt

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