Using Experiences in Writing

Coyote in snowI had a disturbing experience last Sunday. I heard a bunch of coyotes howling behind my house. (The picture I’m showing is one I took several winters ago) It was still daylight and I went outside to listen to them. I had been expecting the coyotes to show up soon. We’re having a bunny explosion in the neighborhood and we’re on the coyotes’ regular circuit. They come and take care of the bunnies and mice then they move on to their next feeding stop. I usually see them every three months or so.

I enjoy the sight of wildlife—there’s a lot of it in my area. And I try to be practical about it. Yes, the bunnies are cute, but unchecked, there would quickly be hundreds of them. I’m very respectful of the coyotes, and give them their space. I also never let my dog out alone in the dog run. He’s just small enough that they might go for him.

Enough back story. Last Sunday, while I was listening to the coyotes howl, and enjoying their songfest, the howls suddenly changed and I heard a dog’s bark mixed in. Next followed a vicious fight that ended with the dog being killed. It’ll be a long time before I get those sounds and cries of pain out of my head. It was so fast, there was nothing I could do. I didn’t know exactly where they were. I could just hear the sounds. I felt such horror and frustration that I couldn’t stop it. I wanted to yell at the coyotes to focus on the bunnies and leave the dog alone. But naturally the coyotes don’t see it quite the same way. The real heartbreaker was the couple who came by the next day looking for their Yorkshire terrier and I had to tell them what I heard. They had no idea that coyotes could hop a fence. They thought their dog was safe in a fenced in yard. They’d never seen a coyote and had no idea how big and dangerous they are.

I posted my experience on Facebook when it happened. I needed to get it out there so I could get the horror out of my head. Judy, a writing friend, said that one day I’ll be able to use it in my work. My first reaction was, yes, I know I’ll use it one day but I need some commiseration here. Where are my back-pats, and there-there, nows? I thought it would be years before I could mine the experience for something. It felt too callous to even think of using it before a suitable amount of time had passed… like two whole days. Yes, I have thought of a way to use the horror and frustration I felt in my current work of fiction. I’m still world building but I have the plot mapped out and I know the exact scene I can use the emotion I felt funneled through my character. It’s exactly the way she needs to feel. So, does that make me callous? No, it makes me a writer. Like Judy. Mining our experiences adds reality when writing a scene. It’s what brings the emotion out of a character. It’s what makes a scene come alive. Don’t be afraid to use your experiences, even when they are painful. Your writing will be the better for it.

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