Monday, April 5, 2010

Is it a real story, or is the story becoming real?

Yesterday, we had an earthquake. One of the largest in California in nearly 20 years. It was centered below the border in Mexico, in MexiCali.

My fiance and I had just sat down to Easter dinner with his family, when the table started rumbling and the glasses started clinking. The chandelier above me rocked back and forth, swaying in time to the earth.

I, not being a full California native and already of a nervous disposition, panicked. Luckily, there was no damage there, at our house, or the houses of any of our friends or nearby relatives. Still, I'm currently cowering in fear of aftershocks.

This post isn't supposed to be about earthquakes, though. Well, it is, and it isn't. It's more about the brain of a writer than earthquakes. The brain that caused me to think only a few minutes after the big shock had subsided, remember this. Remember this in case you ever need to use it.

The same feeling overcame me, though in a different way, when we finally managed to catch a newscast on tv to learn about the quake. As we were watching, the house began to roll and shake again with an aftershock. A few seconds later, the newscaster on tv remarked that they were experiencing the aftershock there, too, live on the air.

At that point, it felt surreal. It felt like a scene in a movie-- a disaster movie-- shortly after which the hero and heroine miraculously escape while the news station goes down in flames. My mind spiraled out of control with the story that I, clearly, was merely an extra in-- not being a geologist, or niche specialist doctor or scientist, or even failed single parent trying to make amends with my estranged children-- the story that meant we were all going to die.

It was like two separate paths in my brain. There was the rational path that was watching events unfold as they were, understanding that there was no real danger. And then there was the writer's path, spinning the story in my mind to its expected conclusion of destruction and chaos, the way the story would end if it were just that-- a story.

Sometimes I hate having such a vivid imagination. It allows to me to clearly see the worst in everything.

What's the craziest thing you've ever found yourself thinking about writing during? Did anyone else out there feel yesterday's quake?

**(Note: I don't mean to make light of the earthquake).


Matthew Delman said...

A little over a decade ago, several microburst tornadoes struck my hometown -- ripped a swath of destruction straight through much of the region.

When my parents and I took a ride through the area later, I found myself wondering how I'd describe the scene if I were writing it. And this was well before I became serious about my storytelling.

During the recent flooding we experienced up here in Massachusetts, I found myself thinking the same thing. How would I describe this in a story?

I think it's a function of who we are as writers. We want to capture as much about human emotion as we can, and yet we can't help but look at disaster from an almost disjointed point of view. Almost more objective than we'd be if we were living fully in the moment of the event.

Joshua McCune said...

The world is merely a stage, and yes, most of us are unfortunately extras :)

We had a loud explosion the other week that was heard more than 50 miles away (turns out someone blew up a huge pipe bomb by the river)... didn't inspire anything exactly, but helped me get a sense of what my MC was experiencing in a recent scene.

Jemi Fraser said...

I'm way too far away to have felt any shocks (Canada). Terrifying. There have been too many natural scares & disasters lately!

Rick Daley said...

Strong turbulence on a plane. Makes for some interesting typos...

WORD VERIFICATION: lailiter. A metric volume of untruths.

Stephanie Thornton said...

We've got a fair number of earthquakes in Alaska. And, as Rick stated, writing during turbulence can be a little crazy.

Unknown said...

I should have felt it but I didn't. Apparently my brothers did who were standing next to me. Creepy. Though I suppose it could also be a character study of sorts. Its always a different story depending on who's POV you use.
Every extra has a story.

Susan R. Mills said...

Glad you were okay. This guy that used to work on our farm went nutso and shot at cops and then disappeared. He was angry at my husband, so we lived in fear for two months until he was found. I wrote all kinds of things in my head during that time. I think it's natural for writers to do that.