In theatre, there’s a school of acting called “The Method.” Method acting requires the actor to immerse themselves in the character and the situation and to experience it as if it were real by recalling similar instances in their own life. When done right, the performance is more believable, but it leaves the actor drained emotionally. I was never a great actor, but you could say that I’m a Method writer.
Anyone who’s every read my fiction knows that it’s heavily autobiographical. Bits of myself and people I meet seep into and fill the cracks of my characters. Events from my life find parallels in my pages. I can’t help it and I don’t know many writers who can.
For me, writing is an act of self-discovery. I get to reimagine things that really happen. I get to augment reality any way I want. In a sense, I get to play God in my own personal universe. Of course, I don’t transcribe my life verbatim. I start with the truth and bend it to the purposes of the story — often until it’s completely unrecognizable. Still, it’s a helpful starting place.
Drawing from experience creates an atmosphere of reality that’s hard to make up. Instead of trying to fabricate suspense, I check my notebook or try to remember a time when I was apprehensive. The acute awareness of the dryness in the back of my throat. Hypersensitivity to every creak in the room. And then my imagination builds from there.
There is, however, a downside to this reliance on my real life to inform my fiction. Sometimes you have to dig back into some of your most painful memories to extract the greatest prose. To really embrace this way of writing means being vulnerable to your own past. As you rummage through it, looking for pieces to polish and reuse, there’s no telling what you might uncover. Those demons you tried to bury inevitably come to the surface.
The end result can be stirring and the act of getting it onto the page can be cathartic, but the urge to stop typing and escape into something that isn’t so close is difficult to fight.
The way I see it, being a writer means that there’s a duty to chronicle the world, even the parts we may not want to revisit. This is part of the territory, part of the performance. And if it’s done right, with the perfect mixture of fact and fiction, readers may even want an encore.
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When I’m not busy mixing my metaphors, I’m usually surfing the Information Highway that runs through the Twitterverse. Follow along: @jonnyeberle.