Jeanne: This Is Your Life

I recently started a Masterclass on storytelling with Neil Gaiman as the instructor. His first lesson was on honesty in storytelling. In it, he talks about, among other things, using the experiences you had as a child to create verisimilitude in your fiction.

This lesson is very timely because I recently wrote a fight scene for my WIP–a demon fighting an angel on the wing of an Airbus A320 plane 30,000 feet in the air. Obviously, I’m neither an angel nor a demon (opinions of my ex-husbands notwithstanding) nor have I ever been in a real fight with another human being, much less on the wing of an in-transit plane.

However, I grew up the middle child of seven and I have extensive experience with trying to wrestle my possessions away from other kids (or trying to retain possession of something that absolutely wasn’t mine).

I know, for example, what it feels like to have an older sibling literally force you to pick up something you threw on the ground. They place one hand on the nape of your neck, bend you over until your forehead hits your knees, fold their other hand around your hand and close it around said object, then drag you to the trash can and peel your fingers back to release the object. (Note: Looking back, I now understand why my older sisters were so “mean” when they babysat us.)

I’ve never been in a fist fight. My parents had strict rules about fighting, so we never did anything that left marks. All of these wrestling matches took place upstairs, or when Mom and Dad were away. But these tussles provide me with a gut understanding of what it feels like to be in an actual fight–the anger, fear and frustration of going up against a much stronger opponent, knowing you’re inevitably going to lose, but being too stubborn (read: stupid) to take the easy way out and just comply.

How do you use your life experiences to inform your fiction with realism?

12 thoughts on “Jeanne: This Is Your Life

  1. My WIP, such that it is, is about a woman hiking the Appalachian Trail (I’ve backpacked, started planning this but never did it) who has the opportunity to walk away from an ok, but not great life. I won’t let my husband read it because he will read similarities in it when I’m just using past experiences to round out her dissatisfaction. I got the idea after reading “On Writing” by Stephen King. He presented the idea that he has characters that he then puts in a situation and let’s them go to see what they will do. We will see how it progress for my character.
    I’m wondering if your demons have weight because while fighting on the wing of the plane they will be causing some serious trim issues for the pilot in the cockpit!

    • Ooh, good point! Do you have any thoughts on how those trim issues would manifest?

      The scene is a crappy first draft at this point. Gibeon, the angel in question, has already taken out one engine and is trying to destroy another. Sam is trying to stop him.

      I’m already concerned that I have these guys fighting in 600 mile an hour winds (the plane is flying from Florida to NY, so the jet stream is a crosswind).

      I’d really like to keep the scene in some form because the book is short on action scenes.

      All input welcome.

      • Actual story-the C130 in my squadron was carrying the families from Philippines to Guam when we left that base. Passing 10k feet, seatbelts sign goes off anthe pilots in the cockpit continue the climb up to 25,000 ft. When they level off, the pilot at the controls (one pilot flies, the other pilot does the radio comms), the flying pilot has to keep adjust the trim-first nose up, then nose down. That will sometimes happen flying in the mountains with a high wind but they were over the ocean in clear weather. Finally he calls back to the load master over the headsets and finds out the parents released their children and they were playing hide n seek around all the cargo!

        I’d suggest that before the engine is destroyed, the characters are wresting around on the wings. There is also left and right trim on the big jets. They fight and roll around on the left wing, the pilot adjusts trim then somebody is holding the other body while they dialog. Pilot in cockpit is happy. Then big toss, wrestle, over to other wing. Pilot has to adjust the other way, the pilots offer ask air traffic controllers for wind reports if they are having turbulence. When it gets bumpy enough, they turn on the fasten seat belts sign so you may want to do that before the engine is destroyed. Also, as soon as an engine goes out (assuming only 2 engines) the pilots make an immediate divert to the nearest airport big enough to land at so Atlanta, Savannah, Norfolk, etc.

        Also, engines are pretty fragile at full speed, Gibeon only has to throw something into the inlet of the turbine to destroy it of course without getting sucked in himself.
        Hope this helps!

        • Oooh, this sounds very helpful! My father owned and flew small aircraft, and we watched The Great Waldo Pepper a few times when we were very young. The young lady doing a strip show on the wing really stayed with me.

          Also, there’s that Warner Brothers wartime cartoon about Gremlins. It’s set to music, and shows them being mischievous around the plane. I can’t say how *accurate* it is, but it might be in the pop culture subconscious.

          The thing I remember about small planes is that you have to be very careful about where you step on the wing. There were big “do not step here” sorts of stickers in places where you could step. I don’t know if it’s the same for big jets, though.

  2. Right now, I’m using animal observations to inform some of my short stories about Cat People in Space . . . but the more I see animals interact, the more I see where some of our own human behaviors come from. Kitties have brains smaller than a good-sized walnut, but still take turns, pay respect, love their mama and their papa . . . .

    It was very powerful when you described an older sibling forcing a younger one to pick up something and throw it away properly . . . . I was the older sibling, and I’m sure my sister could tell you a tale or two . . . .

  3. OK, so there’s Falling Hare, which is OK. But the one I was thinking about was anti-Nazi propaganda. The gremlins destroy a Messerschmidt. They sing a song that goes, “We are Gremlins from the Kremlin.” The title of the cartoon was Russian Rhapsody (1944), and I had it on a collection of Wartime Warner Brothers cartoons narrated by Leonard Maltin.

    Here’s a clip from The Great Waldo Pepper.

    Hey, the movie is on Prime Video . . . I might watch it for old time’s sake. Robert Redford, you know. Since I’m not eight, I might have more appreciation for his acting (-:.

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