Muses come in all shapes and sizes, at the most unexpected times. When they do come visit, you listen and take action. In this case, a challenging short story project. Challenging because this will probably turn into a Floating World novella instead of an FW short…which, if I start with the intention of a novella, would quickly lose its “-la”.
The other day I read Glad…Strong, an essay by Lara B. Sharp, a beautiful human who, when she’s not being outrageously funny with her adventures in mansplaining, writes about her experiences growing up in the foster care system. It has alternatively haunted and inspired me over the last day or two.
How does this tie into a short story about the supernatural? Well, I’ve read and written a lot of shifters. In most cases, they have no family. They come from a harsh world that tears their lives apart. It’s a staple of the genre. It’s also difficult getting it right—especially if you’ve never been in “the system”. Those of us blessed with the ideal suburban life as a child rarely get something like that right. We can guess, we can imagine, but too often it comes off as trite and cliché. The same old stuff over and over, regurgitating what was written before as if it’s gospel.
What inspired me was the raw emotion in Lara’s piece. Why? Because this really happened and continues happening each and every day. Her perspective is key, turning her life experience into a fascinating character study. Lara drew me in. I saw, I felt…my heart broke for this person I had never met.
Isn’t that what happens when you get attached to a fictional character? You bet it is.
While I was never in her shoes and have no way of fully relating, the elements of the shared human experience linger. Loss, rejection, fear…hope. Those are things we all know. Those emotions, we write. Forget researching that location, forget learning every detail in a forensic exam, forget spending hours on YouTube perfecting your technique on rolling out paper thin layers of filo dough.*
In the greater scheme of things, it’s relatable emotions like these, that cement a character in your readers’ hearts and keep them coming back for more.
And that, my friends, is good story.
*okay…research is important. You do need it, though probably not to the extent that you think you do.