“Let your soul stand cool and composed before a million universes.” – Walt Whitman
I was mentioning to another writer this week how much I enjoy the use of parallels in fiction, particularly speculative fiction. By parallel, I mean something that the reader can relate to their modern life, or the way the world currently works.
Humans haven’t changed much. We love the same, hate the same, lust the same, fear the same. Nothing has changed except for the targets of our love, hate, lust, and fear.
You don’t have to re-invent the wheel. In fact, the great works of horror were often based on real life parallels. Dracula, Frankenstein, Godzilla, and zombies were all born out of real fears. Parallel to the strange, you found the realities of nuclear war, science, and disease.
You don’t have to see someone run from a zombie to know how their mind is going to work when faced with the zombie plague. You only have to look to the worldwide reactions to bird flu, mad cow disease, and similar epidemics. You distill experiences, yours and others, down into an emotional base on which to build your story.
Your characters aren’t that much different from you or your friends. Chances are, somewhere in the rich tapestry that is your life, there was a scene that can be related to the emotional state of the scene you are writing. There, in that memory, find how you felt, the way your pulse seemed to radiate, racing from your heart. Feel the tingle of your skin, as if every molecule in your body was threatening to pull apart. Watch as your vision becomes cloudy and narrow, your mind seeming to disconnect from physical flesh.
Then, you write it.
At some point in your life, on some level, you have felt ever emotion your characters will ever feel. Find it. Amplify it. Use it. Write your pain. Write your hate. Write your lust. Write your joy, your pride, your sorrow, your doubts, your stubbornness. Write it all.
This is nothing new. Actors have done it for decades. They have used their real-life feelings and experiences to crawl inside the skins of people who never existed. They have made characters real because they felt what the characters felt.
Real life runs parallel to fiction, crossing over for brief moments that anchor our stories to reality. Our stories are real, not in the sense that they happened or that they take place in real settings, but in that they feel real. If your story feels real, if the characters feel real, then your reader will believe you.
Show your reader real, relate-able emotion in the fantastic, the wonderful, and the horrible. They will love you for it, and your writing will be a lot more fun.