I can’t tell you how many articles I’ve read that say if you imagine something in great detail, run it through your mind like a movie, that your brain treats it as if it’s an experience you’ve had. I can’t tell you how much truth there is to that concept. I’ve heard it can improve an athlete’s performance better than practice. I’d go with practice if I had a big event coming up. But there is one place where I think the imaginary can be as good as, and sometimes better than, the real. When you’re telling a story, it helps to have been through experiences like the ones you are trying to relate.
If I’m going to tell you about kayaking down a river, I go kayaking first. I learn what it’s like to be a beginner in a boat, getting stuck in marsh grass, hung up in a strainer. And there are always those unexpected moments that usually come when I’m dead tired. On the kayaking trip it happened when I was so tired my arms shook with exhaustion each time I lifted the paddle for another stroke. I looked up at the sky at just the right moment to see an eagle swooping low over the river, coming right toward me, and then veering up toward the heavens at the last moment. There’s a magic in moments like those, magic that make you forget how tired, wet, cold, hungry you are. Moments like those make the trip worth it. Trips like this feed your muse experiences that will wander into more than one story.
But there are adventures it’s just not safe to have in reality. Maybe you’re writing a story about a hero trapped in a burning building. I can’t imagine setting the garden shed on fire and walking around inside just to experience the terror of burning to death. I ran up against that same hurdle when I decided I wanted to write a capture romance. I’m not about to head down a dark alley in the wee hours of the morning to make my story more authentic. Not in the real world anyway.
According to researchers it takes about five minutes for a person to emotionally become their avatar. I can verify that walking down a dark alley in a virtual slum gets my heart thumping. Having someone step out of the shadows in front of me makes my heart skip a few beats. This being virtuality, a universe of objects created and inhabited by thousands of individuals, things don’t always behave as they should. There are elements of surprise that inspire new ideas.
For the past couple of weeks I’ve been blogging on my personal blog about some of my adventures while I was researching capture roleplay in preparation for writing Snatch Me. Nothing went the way I planned it. There were points where I felt like an incredibly inept heroine trapped in a mystery novel and everything I did to extract myself from the situation only dug me a deeper hole. The picture above is a recreation of the moment a hunter tried to carry me off on horseback after he’d just fished me from a river and detached that same horse from my head–long story behind that. But that moment where he put me on the horse and then vaulted up behind me, that was magic. That was one of those times when my heart missed a beat, where the arms going around my waist to take the reins felt real. And how many times in life do you get to know what it’s like to be carried off on horseback by a guy in a loincloth? That magic didn’t last long either, but I’m saving that story for tomorrow’s Friday 55 post at my personal blog.
My virtual world research was a feast for my muse. When it came time to write Snatch Me it was like nothing I had ever experienced. Words spilled onto the page, not a retelling of what happened in my research(sorry no loincloths or horses, but the hero is just as mouthwatering), but a new story about grief that shuts a heart down, about work, about addictions, about finding a lover with the confidence to let a woman discover who she is and who she needs to become. I didn’t know I had a story like that in me.
That’s the cool thing about muses, they take the adventures you feed them and mix them with the joys and sorrows that help human beings grow, then it all merges on the page to tell a story you didn’t see coming. Don’t you love it when that happens?
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. If you’re up for an adventure, you can find a little feast I whipped up for your muse right here.