I don’t remember the exact point the teacher was trying to make, but I believe he was trying to help us access past experiences in order to use authentic emotion on stage. To demonstrate how to do this, he led us through an exercise similar to creative visualization, but in his example we walked through our childhood homes, entering our childhood bedroom and taking a slow inventory of the room. We ended by picking up our hairbrush, feeling the weight and shape in our hand.
The exercise may have gone on from there—tapping into some kind of emotion we felt at that time. But whatever happened next is not what stayed with me. I remember that slow walk through the house and my room. I clearly remember holding the hairbrush. I didn’t know it at the time, but that exercise would help my writing tremendously. I still do this—take a slow walk around a room—when I need to create a scene. Whether I use all the details or not is irrelevant. Ideally, I only pick and choose a few key descriptions to convey the place. But in order for me to decide what’s most important to share with readers, I really need to have the full experience myself.
This, my friends, is tremendously fun. It’s like directed dreaming when you tell your brain to think about a certain happy idea or memory before you go to sleep in the hope you’ll dream about it. In my case, I close my eyes and call up another time—a visit to Saratoga Racetrack, where I worked often as a teen, to use in a story set in the horse racing world. Or I’ll mentally teleport to San Juan, Puerto Rico, site of some happy family vacations, for a Coast Guard story set on the air base there.
Those experiences are fun and somewhat easier since I’ve really been there. But what about a scene set in a brand new Manhattan high rise when I haven’t spent much time in the city for decades? That’s where the fun of Google Earth comes in. I can pull up the building I want and see it from all views at street level. I can walk around the block. Then, I can marry the exterior with an interior of my own choosing, pulling up inspiration pictures from Houzz or a high end decorating site. Then, I try to merge all the images in my mind and walk around a place I’ve never been, experiencing the manufactured world from the inside.
In the big scheme of a novel, the setting is a cog and often not a very big one. Yet it sets the stage for all else to come and nothing happens in a story for me until I’ve grounded myself in the place. You see how well those acting lessons paid off?
***Take a walk through your childhood room! Can you tell me about one picture on the wall? Or any one thing that decorated it? Share with me on the boards today and I’ll send one random commenter a shiny new copy of my first Harlequin Desire story, His Secretary’s Surprise Fiance!