Mining Hard Stone
As I was reading Stephen King's Duma Key last night, I was blown away by King's depiction of the main character, Edgar Freemantle, survivor of a deadly pickup vs. crane accident on a construction worksite. Freemantle's severely injured, losing an arm, breaking ribs, his hip, and sustaining a brain injury that leaves him feeling that "behind my forehead it was alway midnight in the world's biggest clock shop."
Having suffered a viral infection that left me with several unbroken weeks' worth of the worst headache I've ever experienced, I shuddered at the description because it was so dead on. Which reminded me, of course, of the terrible accident that nearly killed Mr. King some years back and his painful, longterm recovery, which he chronicles in his excellent book, On Writing. (If you haven't read it, do. Whether or not you're a fan of King's fiction, it's extremely worthwhile for anyone interested in crafting novels.)
Getting back to my point, the kind of pain King suffered makes my three-week headache from hell seem like a gnat bite on the bumpus. But rather than doing all he can to forget it, King uses the experience to inform his fiction. He mines life's hardest stone to bring his characters alive.
Hard stone doesn't have to come in the form of physicial injury. A broken heart, profound embarrassment, soul-splitting grief and loneliness -- every pain we've ever suffered can be transmuted into writing gold, because no matter how different the factual details of any given story, human emotions are universals to which every reader can connect.
So as you go about your daily writing, ask yourself to recall a time when you've experienced a similar emotion to what your character may be feeling. Mine the hard stone of experience and see if there's a gem to be uncovered