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Don’t Waste Your Disasters

By Randy Ingermanson

Bad things happen all the time to novelists.

  • You get in a car accident.
  • Your hard drive crashes.
  • You lose your job.
  • Somebody in your family dies.
  • You get robbed at gunpoint.
  • A fire breaks out in your apartment building.
  • You break a leg.

The list is endless. Most of these are very bad, and some of them are incredibly awful. You can’t make them go away. You can’t make them less bad.

But when bad things happen to you, there’s one thing you can do to extract a little profit from a horrible situation.

You can store it away in your mind to use someday in a novel. The crucial thing is to save the memory of how it felt when that bad thing happened to you. Emotions are the currency of fiction.

A novel thrives on setbacks and disasters. In a typical novel, your characters are going to have all sorts of horrible things happen to them.

If you want their emotions to feel real to the reader, then you need to have some sort of emotional memories to tap into.

You don’t have to have experienced everything your characters will experience. You just need to have experienced something that will create a similar emotive experience.

Maybe you haven’t been sent to jail for embezzlement. But you might have been caught cheating on a high school chemistry test.

Maybe you’ve never been in an airplane crash. But you might have been in an auto accident.

Maybe nobody’s ever fired a gun at you. But you might have had a baseball thrown at your head.

When you’re writing your novel and something terrible happens to a character, ask yourself what emotion they should be feeling. Then ask yourself if something bad has ever happened to you that caused that same emotion in you.

If so, then relive the bad memory and use it to power up the emotion in your character.

The longer you live, the more bad things will happen to you, or to people you love. You can’t avoid them.

But you can put them in your emotional bank account to use in a novel someday.


This article is reprinted by permission of the author.
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 6,200 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit
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