by Terri Wagner
Admin Note: Internet access has been spotty, but I think this should go out.
I often listen to a radio version of a Dr. James Dobson interview session on my long commute. The last two days he has interviewed his son and wife both were adopted. The wife's story was as opposite my own as it could get. In a nutshell, she was 3 years old when her biological family was split up. She was eventually adopted by her foster mother's daughter. When she hit puberty, emotions long dormant came welling up. She didn't want to upset her adopted parents, she didn't know anything about her "real" mom and then felt guilty for not seeing her adopted mom as her "real" mom. She took refuge in cutting and harming herself, unable to deal with such strong emotions or even understand why they suddenly appeared. Happily, things are better now. Her adopted husband knew something of his biological mom but felt where he was and who he was was in fact enough. There was some clinical curiosity but no real need to find out about this "mom." He did learn she was 16, unable to care for him and gave him up for adoption. Eventually, his wife pieced together some of her biological family history.
I myself have never considered harming myself (ok you could make a case about being overweight but let's not go there shall we?). And that in turn got me to thinking about characters we develop for our stories with natures foreign to our own experiences. The proverbial they say write what you know. But I can't know what that feels like. I could go on forever about how many times I have been literally stunned when a trigger phrase has prompted outlandish behavior only to discover the explanation was as foreign to me as the reaction.
Our new chapter president Laurie spent our last cyber ANWA meeting telling us of character bibles. Write your character's strengths, flaws, motivations, physical appearance and refer to it as your characters go through their story. How you write their growth or lack thereof must always confirm to the character you develop, i.e. Luke Skywalker, who was his father lead George Lucas to create Anakin’s story.
So how do we write about experiences foreign to us? Feelings and emotions we may never fully understand? The character bible…armed with the knowledge that I can still have a character with a nature foreign to mine without actually having to “accept” that nature.