Friday, December 3, 2010

Writing from Life

Not long ago, I received a phone call from my friend and fellow storyteller, Wanda Dyson. During our conversation, she told me how a snake had found its way into her chicken coop and devoured several eggs and almost all her baby chicks. I'd been working on a scene for 'Before the Scarlet Dawn' and this tale of snake and chicken owner sparked my imagination. I was, however, heartsick for the poor baby chicks.

I declared to Wanda, I could use this in a scene and that I'd give her credit for the inspiration. She thought it was a great idea.

And so, when you read 'Before the Scarlet Dawn' you will come to a scene where Eliza's servant bounds into the house, wide-eyed and trembling, once she has seen a large black snake slivering in the coop that scares all the hens up to the rafters. Eliza loads a musket and out the door she goes to take care of the thief. Here is a snippet.

Her eyes scanned the nests and she backed away upon sight of the snake’s sleek body slipping over the edge of the box down to the straw-laden floor. The head she could not see but frowned at the sight of the egg-shaped bulge. A shiver rushed through her limbs, and her hands gripped the musket, and when she cocked the hammer, she raised it to her shoulder. But before she could fire, the serpent wound its way through a crack in the boards and slipped out.

“Oh no you don’t!” She hoisted her skirts to her knees, and hurried to the back of the coup where the snake wound its way between clumps of grass. She raised the musket again, sucked in her breath and took aim. Squeezing the trigger, the musket cracked. Smoke blinded her view and she stumbled back. Fanning it away, she stepped cautiously forward and looked to see if she had gotten the dreadful intruder. Indeed she had, for the flesh lay torn open, red against motionless black and the green grass.

She smiled. Hayward would be so proud of me. Then her breath caught in her throat at the cry of a jay. And when a flock of sparrows sprang from the edge of the forest, a cold sweat prickled over her skin. Hayward had taught her the signs, and she made Fiona swear to hide with Darcy at the first sight of danger.

I won't spoil any more of the scene than I have to, but this leads Eliza into serious trouble. Can you imagine what kind? The year is 1781. The place, the Maryland frontier.

Keep a sharp ear when people share their experiences with you. Think of some of your own and draw from them. But never use something someone shared with you that is personal and private in a scene.

Have you drawn from experiences of your own when writing, or from incidents others have shared with you?


Jan Cline said...

I have to constantly remind myself to remember events that I could use in my book. You sure gave us a good teaser. What a great scene.

aarbaugh said...

Thanks for the great post. I was talking to a friend two weeks ago. In the middle of telling me a story, she stops, looks at me and says "feel free to use this in one of your novels." We both laughed. It actually fits in one of them.

Debra E. Marvin said...

love it, Rita. I can't wait for more. I love how you pulled us in, gave us resolution and satisfaction only to be swept quickly away with a bigger threat. Paced just right, described . . . just right. Sigh.