The last couple of weeks I’ve been struggling with how to come up with a more cohesive plan to write my life memories and life story. I haven’t had much formal training here in the United States as regards short story elements and creative writing.
It’s been very difficult for me to put on paper my thoughts and feelings about some of the experiences I had growing up. I can write outlines, brainstorm ideas and flesh these out, but as I’ve reviewed these, I see there is so much more missing. I need more meat on the bones so to speak!
I started looking for some free online classes for story writing and creative writing. I came across a website for the Open Learning Space. There is a lesson there entitled “Writing What You Know.” Here’s the link if you want to check it out: http://openlearn.open.ac.uk/course/view.php?id=2799
For years and years people have told me “Write what you know! Write what you know!” After I plundered the information in this online class, I think I finally got it! The key piece of information to flow from this series of lessons is the importance of detail in giving life to images using all your senses. It’s really important to draw ideas from life experiences and to use every day experiences in generating stories and story ideas. The main activity in this lesson, activity number 4, suggested an exercise involving using all of the senses. This activity simply suggests you write down three things for each of the senses from one indoor location. In other words, three sounds you hear, three textures you feel, three odors you smell, three flavors you taste, and three things you can see.
I’m staying at my mothers taking care of her right now, and I keep the master bedroom. Sitting in the room, I started to record my observations. As I started looking more closely at my surroundings and tuning in to my senses, I was both stunned and amazed at how little I had really been tuning in to my surroundings. On completion of the exercise, reviewing what I gleaned and observed and sensed, I noticed that I spent the better portion of my energy focusing on more visual things to the utter exclusion of all the other senses. I know that I do enjoy aroma and the sense of smell in a lot of areas. Even here, though, I was not even really focused on it. I must confess this is the most shocking observation for me, because I do consider myself to be a sensual being. In some ways, I’m not surprised, because we have become so desensitized to our surroundings these days. We get caught up in everyday activities and stresses of daily living and neglect to fortify and nourish our souls by feeding our senses and getting attuned.
I started reflecting on what I’d learned by simply noting these three items for each sense, and it really got my attention. It was like a whole new world opened up to me. It helped me focus on every little detail involving my senses. It’s like looking through a whole new prism and seeing things in a totally different way.
I have Multiple Sclerosis, and at times my cognition is affected by the disease. As I write story, it’s difficult for me to unlock memory and remember things of my past. As I started doing this exercise, it started unlocking those old places. Because the disease has touched the most delicate part of my being, my brain, my thought process, my mind, I obviously have a fascination for cognition and memory.
After doing this exercise, I found some information about short story elements. Setting, plot, conflict, character, point of view, and theme – these are what make story. I had never really studied the elements in more detail, at least not in English, for all my formal learning was in Norway growing up, and Norwegian sentence structure is different from the English language.
Using the keywords for each of the story elements, I looked at the some of the words I had brainstormed from the initial exercise with my senses. Then I started drawing a basic story outline for a childhood experience I had in Norway. I was reflecting on the time when we moved from Oslo to Blommenholm. Creating a grid with columns for each story element and a place to take notes, I was quickly able to flesh out ideas for a story. I was astounded at the speed with which I was able to do this. It was much easier than I thought.
When you start looking into your past and record events of your past as they transpired, you start doing it in bits and pieces. Then you have to put it all together. You have to make a conscious effort to sit down and think out the actual narrative of what took place and in what order. I’m in note-taker, and when I write stories, I start off with just simple blurbs of information from brainstorming thoughts and ideas and word associations.
As I reflected on how I go about my writing, I realized I write step-by-step what took place and saw a timeline developing. So then I started looking online for timeline formats. Eventually, I decided to just set up a simple document in Word. I set it up going decade by decade of my life. I started off with important benchmarks of my life such as my date of birth, places I had lived, where I went to school and other major life events. Then I started adding subcategories of seasons, hobbies and interests, games I played, toys I played with, activities I engaged in and places I had traveled to. As I started reviewing the basic timeline, even more memories in more vivid detail started popping up out of nowhere. It’s like having a major creative explosion with vivid scenes rising out of the dust!
You should try it sometime!