“The ordinary man is aware of his surroundings, first, by naming and labelling them; second, by linking them with past memory of them; and third, by relating them to his own personal self.”
— Paul Brunton
Experiences are the roots that make a person, grounding us to the past. Some experiences are thick roots that we find ourselves tripping over when similar events occur. Other’s are small saplings that go unnoticed, but subconsciously change the way we experience the world. News footage released the day America bombed Afghanistan probably affected me different than the families of those lost in the 9-11 attacks. While many Americans cheered in stadiums, I cried. Not because I valued the loss of those in the Twin Towers any less. Bombs crashing into unsuspecting villages takes me back to my experience at the Ramstein Flugtag Airshow disaster of 1988, where I watched a flaming plane crash into an audience of unsuspecting viewers. I was eleven years old.
My reaction is not right or wrong. Nor is anyone elses. It is simply a reaction to our own, unique experiences. Our roots that forever ground us to our past.
Using experiences to describe a character can have profound effects on a story. Experiences make your character rich, whether large or small. This is one of my favorite tools. Take this example…
It was never easy to tell her no. Not when she looked at you while batting her eyelashes over blue eyes that caught every light. Like when we were five and she said, Come on, Lisa. Let’s get pretty, and we went into her mother’s bathroom and coated our faces with blush and lipstick and purple eye shadow.
It’s a simple description that builds both Lisa and Jurnee in the readers eye. Sure, I use the word blue, but read more. In a simple paragraph of description, one learns that they have been friends since they were five. Pretty basic. Keep reading and you can find that Jurnee serves as the leader, influencing Lisa with her beauty. Perhaps, there is even a little envy on Lisa’s side. Through this one experience that two little girls shared, is a picture painted of the characters that grow throughout the book, “Dolly”.
No brown hair whipping in the wind, or long, gazes at themselves in the mirror. Certainly, no personal ad introduction. Simply an experience, wee as it may be, to open us into their world.