There’s a saying that goes something like this: “Memoir is 90% fiction and fiction is 90% memoir.”*
While I’ve never plugged a real life experience “as is” into a work of fiction, my experiences absolutely inform my characters and story lines. For instance, I recently dug into my own life for inspiration, and struck gold with a shower scene that received rave reviews from my writers’ group.
Let me explain.
I’ve been struggling to establish attraction and intimacy between two of the characters in my novel-in-progress. The consistent feedback from my beta readers is: “I’m not totally sure what they see in each other”. The triumphant shower scene was inspired by the time my boyfriend and I spent ten minutes in the shower spotting dog faces in the granite pattern. I’d done this in private for years, and was oddly exhilarated to share it with him. It was a small moment, but it brought us a little closer.
Most writers reflect on their own experiences for inspiration, but what about when we are inspired smack dab in the middle of said experience?
Just this past weekend, my boyfriend and I were dancing (badly) to bossa nova music – in my living room and in our underwear. We giggled as we stepped on each others bare feet, fully aware of how ridiculous we must look. And as I snuggled into him, I thought, “You know, this could be a good scene to show more intimacy between Alice and Patrick.” But then it hit me: I wasn’t in the middle of a “scene”. I was in the middle of real life. And I was missing it, buried in my thoughts about my novel.
So I snapped myself back into the present, and tucked away that nugget of inspiration for later. Stay tuned on that account.
And in the meantime, I will leave you with that short but sweet shower scene “Inspired by a True Event!”
I’d always found showering with someone else a little awkward, taking turns washing shampoo out of your hair, standing there naked in the bright bathroom light. The first time I’d showered with Patrick, I stood with my arms across my chest, shivering, until he pulled me under the water, pressed his wet skin against mine.
“Do you see the faces?” he asked, pointing to the granite walls. “In the pattern of the stone. See, two eyes, a nose and a mouth,” he said, tracing the shapes with his finger. And right before my eyes, the indistinct forms came together into a woman’s face, complete with long wavy hair. “And here’s a dog’s face,” Patrick said, pointing to the left of the woman. “And a cat over here.”
I’d showered every day in that bathroom for two years and had never once noticed the faces looking back at me. But now they were everywhere.
“This one looks like a horse,” I said, my eyes searching over the granite. I’d completely forgotten to feel awkward. “And this one looks like a walrus, if you tilt your head a little. And here’s a bear!”
It was such a dumb thing to get excited about, but I couldn’t help myself.
We spotted faces in the granite until the hot water ran out. And from then on, every morning when I showered, I looked for new faces so that I could point them out to Patrick the next time he was over.
If we were going to break up, I was going to have to move. How could I ever shower in my bathroom again?
* Percentages are approximate