When personal struggles make for good story

For the past five days I’ve been with a friend who really needed someone to help her through a difficult time.  When I leave her on Monday, I am confident I will leave a renewed person behind, someone who has taken the necessary steps to become well again, both physically, emotionally and mentally.  I am glad I had the chance to be with her and help her through this trying time. It has also been very beneficial to me, both as a friend and a writer.

As an author, I was not surprised to find I was jotting down notes before I went to bed, noting places we went, people we met.  I have character notes out the whazoo.  Even the reason I am here has added great fodder to my writing.  Experiencing someone else’s personal struggles…seeing the way they handle grief and pain and how they endure to make their world right…is sure to add dimension to fictional characters.  Sure, pulling from your own experiences can add depth to characters, too, but sometimes inspiration comes from what’s around you, not from within you.

A view from the outside provides a different perspective.  You’re not blinded by your own emotions.  In fact, you’re emotions have to be more than rational to help the person who needs to lean on you like a rock.  You can witness the tears, the fear of the unknown, the anger, the loss and the desperation for a better future from a completely different angle.

Writers need both internal and external perspectives to write well.  The struggles my friend was and is facing are new to me as they are to her. I had no idea what to expect when I arrived.  It’s like a character arriving on the pages of your manuscript for the first time.  I submersed myself in the setting, the surrounding, the emotions.  This experience has shown me a different way to approach character development, settings and the conveyance of feelings.

I have three more days here, more places to go, more events to experience.  While not all fun and games, the writer in me is thrilled I stepped outside my comfort zone.  In turn, life has made me a better friend and hopefully a better writer.  Only time will tell, but the experience certainly can’t hurt.

What about you?  Do you use personal experiences or experiences of others to feed that element into your stories?