Our own experiences give us the best insight into a character’s mind, into her thoughts and emotions. Let’s say you’re writing a scene where your heroine is experiencing a moment of fear or loneliness. Where do you access those feelings? Look deeply into your own life and find a moment where you felt the same way, even if the circumstances were different.
I was writing a scene where a young girl is feeling vulnerable because circumstances made her run away from home. I’ve never run away from home, but I have experienced feeling small, scared, and alone.
When I was five years old, my older siblings made me take the short-cut back from school every day, where we had to jump onto a narrow bridge over a canal which often flooded during monsoons. The water gushing under my feet would terrify me. One day, my class was released earlier than theirs, so I took off by the long but unfamiliar route, but soon lost my way. And for the first time in my life, I felt fear. Of course, a few minutes later my brother caught up with me and I didn’t even mind it when he scolded me for taking off like that! But I still remember the fear.
This is what I worked into the scene:
She stared at the sheer volume of the gushing water, at the vast relentless sky above, and the unfamiliar landscape behind her. And suddenly she felt small. Like an insignificant speck in the cosmos, who did not matter in the big scheme of things. If a lightning bolt were to claim her right now, there was not one person in the world who cared. A lump formed in her throat and she gulped. The universe had placed a burden on her young shoulders, but given her nothing to cope with it.
How was she going to survive?
She collapsed on the muddy bank, and sinking her face in her hands, rocked back and forth, as she mourned the end of the only life she had known, and her familiar world vanished into oblivion.
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Sunanda Chatterjee is a practicing physician in Southern California. When she is not by the microscope making diagnoses, she loves to write fiction.