Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Scenes from Real Life


For days, heartbreaking images from Japan have lit up our television screens. As writers, we may watch these news clips differently.

With the flipped train, we wonder where each passenger was headed. With each splintered home, we're curious about who lived there. Behind each survivor's weary face, there's an untold story.

When disturbing events unfold, we may think "what if," and imagine characters in a similar situation. How did they get there? What is their home life like? What's at stake for this person?

I've imagined fictional scenes when I watched school shootings, car chases, hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes. I've read a few novels where scenes took place around the terror attacks of 9/11.

Over three years ago, when all of California seemed like it burned out of control, my house almost caught fire. Did I write about that traumatic event? It took some time, but yes, I did.

Japan's wounds are gaping and raw. I have no doubt that at some point in the future we'll see stories framed around this tragedy. Writers will likely capture the shock, fear, sorrow, survival, and hope. In the meantime, I'll focus on real life and continue praying for the people of Japan.

How about you? Have you fictionalized a traumatic event, either your own or one from the news?

46 comments:

  1. I have chills right now. Maybe because I think I've read what you're talking about. There is no doubt writing is cathartic, even for people like me who write things that aren't obviously real, the emotions are. :D Great post!

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  2. It's a tricky business, but yes. I lived in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Two years later, as an exercise in catharsis, I turned my own experiences (vastly what if'd) into an urban fantasy that will be published next year. I think you have to be VERY sensitive to the emotions around events like this. Not sure I'd have the nerve to take on something I hadn't been personally involved in. As it is, I still expect some to accuse me of exploitation.

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  3. Story helps people deal with life. I absolutely believe that, esp. at times like this.

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  5. I always look for the blessings in the midst of trials or a disaster...these blessings are the real stories. We're feeling the same feelings, Julie. I posted on the disaster too.

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  6. sort of, but only in shades combined with other imaginary events. It's good to process these things, though~ Glad your house was spared! <3

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  7. Julie, wonderful post, and yes, you're absolutely right. I wrote about 9-11 from the POV of a Muslim man living in the US and married to an American woman (as my husband is). I thought it was a POV that needed to be told.

    But in watching the Japanese horror, I've been thinking like you have, just more historically. People have been storytelling about disasters just such as these for as long as we could talk. Noah's ark, Gilgamesh's flood, the sinking of Atlantis. To tell stories is to make sense of our lives and to seek for truth to carry on.

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  8. Telling the stories help to deal with the trauma. It is an outlet. I do use events as a background for stories sometimes. Funny as I watched the news this morning I was indeed wondering about the people in the cars and the train.

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  9. Julie, I have not written a fictionalized account of a tragedy, but I do read many of those books written by others. I think those books are important because they remind us of the human dimension of these events.

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  10. I have not fictionalized a tragedy, but as a memoir writer, I know writing about traumatic events is healing and cathartic. I have just begun journalling again for that very reason.
    Karen

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  11. I recently started writing something from real life, but I can't continue with it right now. maybe I'll have to write it in batches here and there between the fun stories. Very sad about Japan.

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  12. Writing always helps me make sense of life even though I have not experienced a tragedy. This is such a well written post, Julie!

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  13. I've attempted to write about tragedy, yes. One of the novels I recently finished is based on world events and their effects on the people who are forced to go through such experiences.

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  14. I've never written about a real life tragedy - it would be an emotional challenge.

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  15. A lot of life makes it into my stories and I have a feeling this tragedy will too in some way or another. I'm so sadened by this that it may take some time thouhg.

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  16. We write what we need to when we're ready.

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  17. My heart and soul goes out to all the people over there.

    Tragedy breeds hope… in stories, and times, in real life.

    Let’s just hope some good can come from this.

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  18. Hearts out to Japan. I lived in Northridge during the big quake there. It felt like the world was ending, and poor Japan is having multiple aftershocks the size of our quake. Unfathomable. I've used my experience with a tornado in my writing.

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  19. Definitely haven't experienced anything like that. But it's perspective. We've had icestorms and would love to put that into a story some time. We'll see.

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  20. I did have an idea of writing a book about the horrible things my country went through back in 1999. when UK and US aggressors were throwing bombs on our bridges, hospitals, schools, buildings, towns for almost three months day and night ... but I felt that I don't have enough bitterness in me to start such a story.

    I sympathize with the people in Japan. A town in my country was also hit by an earthquake this winter, which was horrible since it was cold and everything ... so we share the same problems.

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  21. Its heartbreaking to see what has happened and is still happening to Japan.

    Yes i have fictionalized some of my experiences before. I agree with you- at some point in the future there will be stories about this traumatic experience for Japan.

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  22. It's terrible what's happening in Japan at the moment. I haven't even tried to fictionalise real events. I haven't been in the middle of those events, the closest I came was living half hour away from the places affected by the Australian floods, so I wouldn't be able to do those events justice by putting them in my stories.

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  23. I think we writers tend to see the people within the tragedies - because we're all people watchers, observers and 'what if-ers'. My heart goes out to the people of Japan.

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  24. I've been so sad watching the tv coverage: what is happening in Japan has been, and still is, tragic. The news never gets any better. My thoughts have been with the people of Japan through this awful natural event and the man-made one that is still unfolding.

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  25. I haven't, and I'm impressed by those who can! Great post. It's hard not to think of the Japanese peoples' stories when watching the video clips and images. :(

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  26. I haven't really fictionalised my own traumas, but I think they have helped me in writing about my characters' traumatic events.

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  27. I've put bit and pieces of my life or of other's lives, but nothing that traumatic. I have written very traumatic scenes though, but they were fiction.

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  28. This Japan thing is INSANE and truly HORRIBLE.

    I think there'll be some amazing stories come out of there.

    I'm impressed you were able to finally write about the fires :)

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  29. I was so glad to hear that that village of 9000+ were finally heard from and not victims of the tsunami.

    I have not yet had the courage to write some of the traumatic events from my past. I worry that if the book gets published, will those who were involved see themselves in the pages? I don't want to hurt people, so some things I keep inside.

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

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  30. I have in ways. I don't really like to talk about them so they get injected into my fiction and blown way out of proportion.

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  31. I've never done that myself, not specific instances or events--mostly just the basic emotions behind an events, which are universal. Have a great rest o' the week, Julie!

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  32. I'd thought about it, yes, but in the end I never wrote about it.

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  33. I haven't before, but really like to tell the story about Japan. The concern is doing justice when I am so far away here in the US and have no easy way to travel anytime soon. But it's a good thought and thanks for asking the question.

    Between carpools huh? Guess I should try that.

    New follower.

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  34. I don't think it's hard to see what's happened in Japan in fictional terms, because the whole thing (especially the videos of the tsunami) seem straight out of a Hollywood disaster movie. It's just hard to believe it's real.

    But I can't imagine ever writing about something like this. I wasn't there, so I don't feel like I have the right. And if I were there, I'd probably be too traumatised.

    Now if you take a real life event and are just inspired by it (say something like We Need To Talk About Kevin) then that's somewhat different.

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  35. i once heard a story about a writer who was struggling with some painful personal issues and her agent told her simply to write it out.

    yes, writing about hardship can double both as therapy and produce possibly some of a writer's most powerful work.

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  36. It's so heartbreaking watching and hearing about what's going on over in Japan. I've never tried to fictionalize a disaster on that scale, though I did write a short story as a type of cartharsis to help me deal with a family tragedy.

    Hugs,

    Rach

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  37. You've given me chills. My friend Holly and I have a theory about being moms, and how it has made us imagine every worst-case scenario every moment of every day, and then in turn how that influences our writing. I think this is the same.

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  38. it's really sad to see what's happening in Japan...and in New Zealand last week and all the tradgy that hits people. I wrote my story and it won a national book award and won a short story about a refugee from Uganda that won a short story contest. Now I'm trying to write a fictionalized account that focuses on women and the mental health system. In researching....I've come across some very painful experiences of people. There's a part of me that wants to capture their experience...tell what they never did....

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  39. It's still tricky to think about fictionalising the tragedy.

    As it is we in the South Pacific had tsunami alerts and with the recent earthquake in Vanuatu(yes, after Japan)but it was in deep sea, we get tsunami alerts and our newspapers are still full of advice and tips for surviving tsunami. So we still looking tragedy in the eye.

    My prayers are with all the people suffering through this tragedy.

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  40. The situation in Japan is profoundly disturbing. Tragedy of this scale is a reminder of how precarious life is - how vulnerable we are.

    I started a memoir quite a while ago - which is in limbo now while I'm focusing on writing fiction. It takes guts to pour your own trauma on the page. Thanks for the for the timely reminder to try to distill the essence of our experience and observations in our writing.

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  41. The situation in Japan is really tragic. I have been reading about it everyday. I am sure some writer is already thinking of incorporating the situation into a story which will be about survival, hope and human strength.

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  42. It's dreadful--you give all you can, but it doesn't seem like enough when you see the pictures.

    I suppose I've used some of the trauma I've experienced. I recently tapped the experience of losing somebody to write about it from a character's POV, which was very hard. As for some of the natural disasters I've seen, not yet--too fresh, but perhaps one day.

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  43. Poor Japan.

    I can't think of a real life event I fictionalized on that scale. I've had smaller personal hard times that I've turned into fiction.

    Have a good weekend. I'm having a contest on my blog, if you'd like to visit.

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  44. I'm sure you're right that there will be things written about this terrible disaster, and probably a movie someday. I have written a poem, Shaking Our Faith. It's hard to describe something so profound, but we do need to be aware of what it's like and learn from events like this.

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  45. Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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