my writing takes me places

The novel I am working on had as its setting a small city and a remote area of Brazil. After the second draft I decided that I was not capable of writing good descriptive characters, dialogue, cultural cues, etc. for a story whose setting was a place I had never been. (I’ve known many Brazilians, but in NY, not in Río.) I could plan a visit, I suppose, eventually… but I don’t believe that would give me the intimate knowledge of the nuances of culture and language I hope to tap into to craft this tale.

So that leaves me in the process of a thousandth draft in which I am changing the setting to Spain (where I did live for several years so have a better sense of all of the above). Today I read an interview between two writers who spoke of traveling to Brazil to do research for their novels. One of them also mentioned, as an aside, that she didn’t enjoy her time in the Amazon, finding it uncomfortable with far too many snakes. Good idea I moved my setting to Spain, because research or no research I definitely don’t want to go to a place filled with slithering things. But ahhhh, Spain! I can definitely imagine returning there soon to do some research…oh yea, definitely. How about tomorrow?

My writing takes me to some places I want very much to visit, literally or in my imagination.

But today my novel also took me somewhere else. A place I hadn’t expected to go.

I was writing a scene about a stillbirth. I have three children so I know a bit about giving birth, the sounds and smells and colors… but, thank God, my three were born alive and well. In describing the stillborn child I was unsure what the child might look like… would the skin be ashy and pallid, or mottled and dark? Would the eyes be closed or open? I didn’t want to get into a morbid detail in my description of the scene, but I did want to describe with relative accuracy the child to give the proper respect to my scene and its characters, as well as to any readers who might, possibly, some day, happen upon the passage.

So I did a Google search: “What does a stillborn child look like?”

Through it I almost immediately, without much thought, clicked on a link. It was, it turned out, a website where families post images of their stillborn infants. Pages upon pages of well thought-out names, along with the date of their birth, which is also that of their death. Linked to most of these names were images, images as varied in death as babies are in life: some pale, others dark, some with curly hair, others bald, little hands clasped before them. Many of them cradled in the loving embrace of the mother or father, who barely had a moment to celebrate their birth, let alone mourn them, captured in a photo the brief moments they were together.

How at once ineffably beautiful and ineffably sad I found these images which will remain with me forever. I slipped away from the website with the quiet respect I would have had had I inadvertently walked in on them in their hospital rooms, had I witnessed that moment with my own eyes.

My writing takes me many places. Some I dream of, others which leave me frightened or sad. In my writing, as in life, I do not always control where I go, and paths lead me to places I might never have imagined.

10 thoughts on “my writing takes me places

  1. I think this is one of the things about writing that I love – the ability to take you to places. Sometimes literally, other times just emotionally.

    I’ve done some research for a rather important scene in my story (that I am unprepared to share) that has left me emotionally spent. But that emotion has always made me better equipped to tell the tale I mean to.

    1. Yes, I so agree. If we can even scratch the surface of the complexity of life we have, I suppose, done our stories justice. But it can be a difficult and emotional ride for both writer and reader. And I speak of fiction!

  2. I rarely give thought to the story behind the story – meaning the research that went into a particular ‘scene’ description in a book. Wow. I hope, as Wosushi suggests, that this experience guides your writing.

  3. Hi Tracey,
    As you know thanks to our connecting on SheWrites I’ve had the experience of delivering a lifeless baby girl. Even after 18 years I still can’t say Ariane Eira was stillborn since she died during the last five minutes of her breech delivery…
    I’m grateful for the respect with which you wrote above about visiting the site dedicated to dead babies.

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