Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Taking it a Step Farther

Fleetwood Walker--Amity I was at my son’s middle school last week, picking him up early for an appointment. I sat in the office with a clear view of the hall.

Whenever I’m able to see a middle school day in progress, I watch in a sort of horrified fascination.

My junior high years were my most un-favorite. Most of the kids were either really cliquey or really mean. I still haven’t gone back for a reunion. I might even have “murdered” a composite of several of them in my books. :)

If some mystical being offered to wave its magic wand and make me 13 again, I’d knock it into next week.

When the bell rang and a class change commenced, I saw a young kid…he must have been a 6th grader, although he looked younger.

My editor wouldn’t let me create a character like him because it would have been too stock: he was short, pudgy, wore glasses, wore clothes that were designed with a middle-aged man in mind, and carried a huge pile of books and notebooks which he proceeded to drop everywhere. Loose leaf notebook paper snowed down all over the hall.

There was some laughter from the other kids. I froze. My first instinct was to run help, but I wondered if that would make things even worse for him…having someone’s mommy rush out of the office to pick up his things.

Then I saw this beautiful girl stop. She was very tall, probably an 8th grader, and absolutely stunning. I thought, “Oh noooo.” Because I remembered girls like that.

I was fiercely indignant and about to go into the hall and defend the nerdy looking boy from any taunting.

But she stooped and quickly picked up all the papers she could reach while he fumbled with his books. He looked at her, bewildered, and she smiled at him and walked on to class.

It really just blew me away; it was so far out of the norm for what I’d observed during my own middle school years.

If I’d written the story, it wouldn’t have turned out that way.

The girl would have been cruel. The scene would have gotten ugly.

It made me realize that I need to take my ‘what iffing’ a little farther sometimes.

Not just “What if there was an awkward kid who dropped all his stuff during a class change…and what if this beautiful girl came along and bullied him?” but “What if it turned out differently than that?”

It also reminded me that I don’t need to let my personal experiences and history get in the way of my imagination, or limit me.

How strongly do your personal experiences color your writing?