The longer I write fiction, the more I realize that my version of “write what you know,” looks like me working through my trauma by writing it.
The first time I knowingly wrote my trauma into a story was when I wrote about a character being molested. It was supposed to be her story, part of the explanation for how tightly wound and closed off she is, but somehow, as the words poured from my fingertips I realized it wasn’t her anymore. It was me.
The setting was the same. Her emotions and response and all the dialogue between the participants was the same. I even included the help waiting in the next room if only she had called for them.
Writing that scene was the first time I ever wholly allowed myself to walk back into that night. As I wrote, I realized I had so many questions for myself about my behavior. All those questions I’ve heard smeared over victims again and again. Was it my fault? Did I encourage it? Why didn’t I scream?
Using the pretense of “fiction” as a shield, I took myself through the event from start to finish. I watched my composure, waited for the scream that never came, and wept with myself again in the long hot shower I took afterwards when I tried to scald the memory away.
This was just one scene in the midst of a larger work that, until that moment, had nothing to do with me. But it showed me that so much of my fiction isn’t actually fiction. I have novels devoted to my relationship with my parents, short stories about divided siblings, and a series that deals with the toxic, spiritually abusive nature of the church I was raised in. I cloak their presence with magic. Smoke and mirrors and gender swaps and fantasy worlds entirely of my own creation. And then I ask the questions.
How do you love someone who is so damaged they don’t know how to love you back?
When is it okay to walk away? When is it time to run?
Where is the line between justice and love?
What does real forgiveness look like?
Can you ever really stop loving a person once you’ve given yourself to them?
Why didn’t I scream?
I’ve heard over and over that good writing makes you uncomfortable. I wonder if that’s true. I wonder if that’s why sometimes I can’t write at all. And why I feel a simultaneous need to share my stories with everyone and to hide them in the recesses of my laptop, unread and unfinished.
“The moment that you feel, just possibly, you are walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind, and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself…That is the moment, you might be starting to get it right.”Neil Gaiman