Mine Your Relationships for Writing Material

Sunday, May 21, 2017

I have a great book full of writing tips and techniques by author Christina Katz called The Writer’s Workout. It organizes the 366 tips into small, manageable chunks of information the reader can digest throughout the year—and I like that it is broken up into seasons as well. When flipping through the spring season the other day, I came across this tip: “Mine Your Relationships.” The tip points out if we are running out of ideas of things to write about, we should look at our relationships with parents, our children, our neighbors, our hometown, etc.

At first I started to bypass the section. My problem isn’t that I run out of ideas to write about—I usually run out of the time to work on them first. But then I paused, thinking about a YA manuscript I’m working on and how the main character is good, but still not full developed. Something is still missing that makes her relatable. I want her to be more than just the usual “angsty” teen that is portrayed in these type of stories.

I thought back to a big blow-up at my house the other night. I have two kids—one of them a daughter who is about to turn 14—so there have been plenty of those lately! I had already been feeling badly about my daughter, who in no way, shape, or form is interested in the usual make-up, clothes, pop music, and gossiping about boys that most girls her age discuss and obsess over. I know as a mother that shouldn’t concern me, and I should let her continue to enjoy computer coding, watching anime, wearing athletic clothes, playing the violin and other musical instruments she enjoys playing, but I also sometimes wish her interests were more mainstream so she would have more friends. All my nagging finally came to a head when she expressed to me that she feared I didn’t like her the way she was, and that I wished she was different. She doesn’t want to be different—she is comfortable with who she is and doesn’t care if she goes to big parties. She has a few close friends, and she is happier being with them than large groups. I felt like a terrible mom. Just because she isn’t into the things I was at her age doesn’t mean she’s wrong.

In my manuscript, the protagonist has a nagging mother, and I turned the nagging mother into a personal trainer, mostly to add a humorous piece. Isn’t that every teen’s worst nightmare—to have a mom who decided to get fit after a divorce and then turns the exercise into a career? The mom nags the protagonist constantly, even though she’s not out of shape. But she tries to control her diet and drag her out to jog, and the nagging amps up when the protagonist lands on the Homecoming Court at her school. After this experience in my own life, I definitely see some changes I can make in the manuscript. I need to make the daughter have some off-the-wall hobbies that clash with the mother’s sensibilities even more. I can also have the daughter finally bond with the mom after the main event (no spoilers!) happens, but it would be neat if she found a type exercise she liked that the mom hadn’t thought of but also helped her in the story in some way.

My daughter has been begging me to let her read this manuscript (heck, even one of our dogs is in it, with her name changed, of course!) so I have a feeling she can also add some valuable insight into the character development.

I know for some of us, mining our relationships for writing material can be tricky territory. Have you ever done it? Do you have any tips for how to make the most out of real-life stories creatively?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who hopes her loved ones appreciate this whole "mining relationships for material" business one day when she sells a novel.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Good grief, Renee. Your new picture shows an even-prettier (and younger-looking) Renee. How do you do that? How do you go back in time, age-wise?

Okay, back to your post. You have a daughter who WANTS to read your writing? Another good grief. Can I have an "amen"? She must be an exceptional young lady.

I think since you're starting with some real people as the base for your characters, if you trust yourself enough to let the characters tell the story, they'll lead you off in unexpected directions, which will add fictional flesh and fat and skin to your characters.

Good luck. And I want to read it, too.

Angela Mackintosh said...

Renee, your daughter sounds like a rebel and totally awesome! You raised one confident young lady who isn't afraid to be herself. :)

Your manuscript sounds great, and I'd love to read about those characters. The mom who gets fit after a divorce and becomes a personal trainer--it IS the worst, and it's hilarious. I think all my characters are based off of bits and pieces of people I know. I've been thinking more about this lately, and about how I can mine my childhood relationships for character material. That takes a little more searching and trying to remember the details, but I think I've found a worthwhile story there.

And I agree with Sioux, your photo is stunning! I wish I had your eyes.

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