As a fantasy author, I don’t often think about how my writing reflects my own experiences in life. Part of this is due to the fact that I don’t feel like I have a great deal of life experience to draw upon. As someone who married and had children at a relatively young age and has lived in the same place for the better part of fifteen years, my life doesn’t seem all that interesting or exciting. But that’s kind of a ridiculous position when you stop and think about it. No matter their age or circumstances, writers are always observing. Sometimes we’re taking stock of our own experiences, but just as often we’re evaluating other people’s lives. On some level, every writer is a bit of a voyeur.
In many instances, though, my personal experiences wind up being far more influential on the creative process than I realize. They also have a way of popping up in places you don’t expect. When I wrote The Walls of Dalgorod, for instance, I was a bit taken aback by how much the father-son relationship between the characters Kirill and Gregorii was informed by my relationship with my father and my own son. The connections aren’t obvious, but there were plenty of times where I found myself drawing upon moments and situations from those relationships that stood out in my mind. Recollections of bad day here, an argument there, or even an internalized sense of frustration or disappointment informed the conflict between those characters even though I’ve never gone through anything so negative or dysfunctional.
When writers talk about drawing upon your experience, we sometimes make it sound like only people who have gone through exactly what you’re writing about can possibly portray those situations on the page. But what we’re really trying to say is your experiences create a window you can see through and help you find your characters on the other side. I find it to be quite similar to acting. You have to pull from your own feelings to portray how someone else is feeling. Writing is just another form of performance in that respect. The emotion you’re using to connect with the characters doesn’t have to square up neatly with their story; you just have to feel something to help convince the reader that it’s real.
The characters in Blackspire go through some horrible situations I’ve never come close to experiencing. But I’ve felt a lot of those emotions in other areas of life, maybe not to the same extremes, but at least enough to help me take a step in a character’s shoes. Once I get that glimpse, my imagination can fill out the rest. I can extrapolate the emotions and have a sense for what it might feel like in another context. Whatever I end up creating from that is still anchored to a real emotion, a feeling I can understand and contextualize. From there, I just need to credibly convey it to the readers, but that’s more of a technical issue I can tinker with and refine over time. You can always find better words and phrases to use, but you can’t get new emotions to convey.