The hidden secrets of writing with Tracy Todd
This is Tracy’s own upbeat story, poignant and, at times, humorous, about her struggle for independence and love after a car accident left her paralysed from the neck down. We are featuring her in this blog series on just some of the published books of our Creative Writing alumni.
In this scene, Tracy is being driven home for the first time since the accident:
The three-hour drive home was a nightmare. With each curve of the road I fell over, from one side to the other, hitting my head on the window or falling onto Craig’s lap. Not even the seat belt could hold me in place and the pillows weren’t offering much support. It was a sobering trip, watching the familiar scenery whizz by and realizing that I was unable to sit up straight on my own in my car, the very same one I’d driven to work each day.
My heart pounded as we turned on to the dirt road leading to the farm. Craig drove slowly over the railway line and then the bridge over the Crocodile River. I always looked out for hippos, but there were none that day. By the time we reached the gate, my cheeks were wet.
Welcome Home said a sign amid pink balloons. I recognised my friend Pam’s handwriting.
Craig squeezed my shoulder. My father-in-law George’s shock of white hair bobbed above the sign as he opened the gate. He chased the dogs out of the way. Rocky looked thinner as he scrambled up the drive. The pool was sparkling and the lawn was still green. The palm tree towered above us as we came to a stop. It seemed taller than I’d remembered. The whole family was there. My heart leapt when I saw Chad in his Nanna’s arms and I fought to control my tears so that he wouldn’t be upset.
I was unprepared for the roller coaster of emotion I’d experience. I don’t think I fully comprehended the magnitude of our situation until then. I had walked out of our home with my husband, holding my baby on my hip, dragging a suitcase packed with beach clothes, and filled with anticipation and excitement about our holiday. Seven weeks later, I was pushed through our front door in a wheelchair, unable to move anything except my head.
We are gripped by this scene because Tracy learnt one of the most important lessons about writing memoir: use the same skills as fiction. The most important of these is to write in scenes, which allow us to see, hear, smell, feel (and perhaps taste) what you were going through at the time. Recreate the time and the place for us, so that you’re able to show it to us and allow us to experience it just as you did. The author has used just enough details for us to visualise her homecoming for ourselves.
And, within my comments on Tracy’s work lie your tips for today.
- It’s important to “show” as much as possible, rather than simply tell your reader what happened.
- Give them access to your thoughts in the moment, because that’s what your story is about – not just the events, but the way you acted and reacted, and felt, in response to those events.
- Use enough accurate details to allow us to be there with you.
If you’d like to write better, whether you wish to write fiction or creative non-fiction, our Creative Writing Course deals with all these techniques in great detail, and encourages you to try them out, with personal feedback.
*Brave Lotus Flower Rides The Dragon is available on Amazon and at all good bookstores.