Friday, October 5, 2007

What Do I Know?

In the dark hours this morning, a vehicle followed mine onto a narrow two-lane road that I take to get to work. With seconds, this vehicle had drawn so close behind me that I could barely see its headlights. My initial reaction was fear. That was followed by a flash of anger that settled into a low simmer. How dare this idiot endanger my life by risking slamming into the back of me if I had to brake suddenly for a deer or a kid on a bike? When we reached the stop light at the end of the road, I imagined myself getting out of my car, walking back to the other vehicle and chewing out him or her. Then I thought that a person who tailgates with such disregard for traffic safety probably doesn’t feel guilty about it and might even have a gun (this is Texas). So of course I stayed put. But the situation blossomed into a tidy little scene in my mind, one I could no doubt use for some future work of fiction.

There’s an old adage for writers that says “write what you know”. But what do I know? I live a fairly quiet life without the killers, ghosts, or femme fatales that populate my stories. Most of the heroes in my romantic suspense novels are Deputy United States Marshals. I’m not one. I don’t even know any. The heroine of my western romance is a Louisiana debutante. I had a debut once. Drama class, junior year of high school. Not quite the same thing and it didn’t lead to love and happily-ever-after. . .oh, wait. Yes, it did. But that’s another story.

Stepping beyond that adage is where real writers truly excel. One thing we know how to do—the most important thing—is use our imaginations. We can conjure characters and places out of thin air, lay them out on a page and make them come across as if we know those people and have been to those places.

I’ve never been pursued through the dark woods by a murderer. But I can pull up the emotions of fear and desperation based on experiences like the one with the tailgater above. I’ve never ridden a horse at a full-out run, but I’ve walked a horse and I’ve had one run away with me. Add to those experiences all the westerns I’ve seen and read in my life and I’m able to create a convincing chase scene.

So we can relate our own experiences into adventures for our books. Yes. We may not be cops or killers, but we know more than we think we do. Now I’m not suggesting anyone endanger themselves (or anyone else) just to gain experience for a scene or a character. But pay attention to what does happen to you and how you feel. Have a close call on the freeway with someone in the throes of road rage? Document how you feel: the pounding of your heart, the sense of threat, your own rising anger. Use that. Expand on it. Meet the eyes of an attractive stranger across a dimly lit restaurant? Describe that little flutter in the pit of your stomach. Use it. Get it down on paper and build a scene around it.

You know more than you think you do.

Teri Thackston
DEADLY CLIMB available now at


Amarinda Jones said...

yep, you are absolutely correct Teri. I often see or hear or experience something and think 'that would make a bloody good book' so I scribble it down.

Good blog

Cindy Spencer Pape said...

It's being able to catalog and then repeat all those snippets of emotion and the physical reactions that makes you such a terrific writer, Teri!

anny cook said...

Excellent blog! And you're absolutely correct.

Colleen Thompson said...

Very true, Teri. Situations aren't universal, but human emotions are.