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Stories and Chapters

I was talking to one of my young writer friends this morning about one of her stories. When we finished the discussion, she had decided that the story she was writing would be a stand alone act as a chapter of a much longer saga of the adventures of the same characters. The initial question had centered on her story going beyond acceptable word length.

Later I got to thinking about stories and chapters and life. I know. I do that a lot.

For most of my adult life I’ve compared my life with a book composed of chapters. For instance, every time I moved residences, I had come to the end of a chapter in my life. I’m now into the 35th volume, I think. That’s really because of college. I moved nearly every year at that time. But, then again, I’ve always been a gypsy.

I always said that about my life in an unconscious way without really looking at the meaning of the words. You know how that is; how it is to be oblivious to something standing right in front of you and walk smack dab into it. Then today, the meaning became so clear that I felt shocked. The meaning forced me to take a good, hard look at all of the chapters.

Some of them might as well not exist because there are no memories there at all. Some have only a handful of memories. Others are like snapshots in a photo album. Then there are ones, short ones, that are the memories surrounding a single event.

We all have books like this that comprise our personal memories. There are times and events that we never want to see or feel again. Others we pour over again and again so that we may savor the sweetness  just one more  time.

Some people are blessed because they have books filled with such sweetness and joy that there are not enough shelves in the world to hold all the individual event chapters in that one memory system. They are such lucky people, I think.

Others have just the opposite problem. For them, memories become the weapons in a torture chamber of their own devising. Everytime a memory is triggered, they get locked into the chamber for the duration. Most of us have at least one small torture chamber of our own. They’re not fun. Sometimes just being threatened with its presence keeps us from repeating the behavior that initiates such feelings.

For years now discussion has flowed back and forth as to whether writers write about their own tortured memories and treasured secret delights or whether they just grab something out of the either and run with it. Can writers sequester themselves enough from their own pasts to never use the memories and emotions stored there? Perhaps that should be the question asked.

Stephen King has always said that he wrote about those things that scared him both as a child and a man. If you, as a writer used your worst fear as the basis of a story, what would that fear be? A fear of spiders, snakes, what? They have been fairly overdone anyway. How about cats? No, that’s been done to death starting way back in the early forties. What about the fear of peanut butter? Or, hairballs? Hey, that’s real. It’s in the books. Ask the APA.

The point is that fears or delights linger to tap us on the shoulder when we least expect it just to say “Hello, remember me?” If you think you can go an entire day without such an occurrance, try it. I dare you. If you can do that, you deserve a prize and a medal for withstanding tremendous pressure of the mental variety. If you can go an entire day without having something remind you of something or someone else, you have amazing abilities.

That’s why I believe no one, writer or not, can eliminate the influence imposed on us by our  memories. And if that is true, then how could anyone possibly believe that a writer does not use his/her own memories for fodder for the word mill? Our little chapters have too many secret entrances that we never know are there until they’ve been opened.

Now that I am fully aware of my life’s chapters, I can take more care about how I write in them. Knowing something is there and being truly aware of that something are two different animals entirely. I want to write conscious entires into this most personal of journals.

I sincerely hope that your memory journal is filled with treasured delights to be polished at will and displayed at random intervals.


Categories: Writing and Poetry
  1. October 3, 2009 at 11:51 am

    So true! We can’t change our pasts or the memories that follow us. But we sure can decide what we do with them. Look forward to reading more of your posts. K-

  2. claudsy
    October 3, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    Thank you,Kathie. I always appreciate feedback. I did have a further thought onthe subject.

    The problem is in how much do we reveal of the truth of those memories and how much to fictionalize. A wise man once said that “Truth is stranger than fiction.” That blanket statement has been proven to me so many times I’ve lost count. I have writer friends who’ve lived such diverse and amazing lives that few would ever believe them as truth. My own is much the same.

    So where do we draw the line between truth and fiction? Do we save the juiciest and most provocative bits for the dreaded memoire to be released just after our deaths and only reveal those more acceptable adventures of our lives to the general public? Even if we told the absolute, unvarnished truth, there would be those who could not believe its validity. So where is the right spot to put our stick in the sand and beginning dragging?

    So many personal, ethical questions.

  3. October 20, 2009 at 9:43 pm

    Hi Clauds,

    I have a councilor friend of mine who noticed that her harder cases all shared issues she had as of yet unresolved. After she made that connection, she began scrubbing each case for “what have I revealed to someone else that might apply to me?” She always challenged herself to find at least one and she always found it. Things became better for her clients and herself.

    Having said all of this, I noticed that my main character for the upcoming NaNo novel fit the Athena archetype before I had learnt about them. When I fully read the archetype I had to pause and ask “Wait, that’s me, that’s the MC, how could that be?” I took deep breath and laughed. Somewhere in the writing books they tell you “Write what you know?”. I remember asking you via email, how do I figure out what I know? In the answer, we were both referencing the NONFICTION side. It this then that I realized that for FICTION, “I know me, the people around. I know our hot button and what makes us tick.” That was my other AHA moment. The rest of the crew that I had imagined were actually modeled after family, friends and coworkers.

    So, in summary, “Write what you know” rules subconsciously and when me make a conscious act, both the character and author grow from it.


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