We fiction writers already know how life experiences can inform our creativity. How getting lost in an unfamiliar town or eavesdropping on a quarrel can ignite that light bulb; how the unexplored stretch of coastline or narrow, unmapped street can form the basis of a whole new storyline.
But what about experiences that aren’t part of this life? I don’t mean being abducted by aliens… I mean a different, altogether other-worldly event.
Let me explain.
Many years ago, a friend training to become a regression therapist was coming to the end of her course and needed to prove her expertise by conducting a series of successful regressions of her own. She needed a guinea pig; would I consider being regressed to a former life?
I’m rather cynical about this sort of thing, so I wanted to know how it would work. I was convinced my experience would just be a hotchpotch of scenes from novels I’d read and films I’d seen. How would my friend know the difference? It would definitely work, she assured me; it would be all my own experiences. And, like hypnotherapy, which I’d undergone previously, I would still be aware of my surroundings. If anything untoward happened, she would wake me up.
Still very sceptical, I agreed.
Well. What can I say? It certainly felt real. In my new (old) life I was a young Victorian woman, the daughter of a wealthy household. I can still remember every tiny detail: the house and its contents; the people I met; my clothes – that exquisite emerald green silk gown and the pearls I wore in the evening; the food, tastes, smells and sounds. The whole experience seemed to last for ages and I was exhausted at the finish. I’m not sure it was an accurate representation of life in Victorian England but it was an entertaining way to spend an afternoon.
So what’s this got to do with creative writing? I don’t usually write historical fiction, and I would certainly check all the facts for historical accuracy before using anything, though deep down I suspect everything would be correct. The whole spooky experience gave me insights that are relevant to my writing today. It gave me food for thought and I’m still dining on it today, creatively speaking. It was vivid, colourful, authentic; full of life and drama. I think myself back into that grand old house with its enormous library and equally enormous kitchen, and conjure up details like the silver flatware, the fine bone china, the crystal chandeliers. My other life touched many other lives, from the lowly to the exalted. The people still hang around in my head like the cast of a melodrama waiting for a script – a great starting point for building characters.
Was it real? The jury’s still out on that one but it felt part of me, not something I was making up. And I can’t remember any novels featuring that level of detail.
Would I do it again? Hm. From the point of view of amassing material – yes, it was definitely useful, although that wasn’t the original intention. But to discover other lives I may have lived? Not sure about that. At the moment, one life is enough, but I never say never….