Use What You Know

I often use my own experiences in my books. For example, about thirty years ago, we were taking our kids to an evening dinner theater performance, driving through pouring rain. The road conditions were awful, and as we headed up a hill, something weird happened. Water got into the engine, and the car stopped on the road. There was no way to get out of the traffic lane, and unfortunately, a vehicle was barreling down the highway behind us, going much too fast for the rainy conditions. The driver slammed into us. I was wearing my seat belt. I remember flying forward and then having the belt pull me back before I flew into the windshield. I experienced the whole thing in slow motion. In other words, time slowed down so that I was able to note all the details.

I sometimes use that experience of time slowing down in danger scenes in my books. It allows me to fit in details that the character normally wouldn’t be able to notice. And the time distortion is an interesting way to make the scary situation seem more threatening.

About twenty years ago, I had another frightening experience. It was evening, and the electricity went off. We were plunged into pitch darkness, and while I was fumbling around trying to get from the den to the front hall, I misjudged the route and cut a corner too tightly. In total darkness, I pitched over the edge of the basement steps. If I’d been able to see anything, I might have caught myself on the railing. Instead, I sailed down the stairs and landed in a heap at the bottom. I was actually pretty lucky. If I had landed head first, I might have broken my neck. Instead I landed on my shoulder. I broke the bone at the top of my arm and dislocated the shoulder.

So I know that in any movie scene where someone falls down a flight of steps and is able to get up and walk away, they are fudging the injuries.

I’ve used that experience in books, both the falling part and the recovery from dislocating a shoulder and breaking a bone.

Of course, you can’t always rely on your experiences for your danger scenes. Like in Chain Reaction, which is on pre-order now and coming out March 15 My hero, Gage Darnell, is caught in an explosion at a secret lab and acquires a psychic power–the ability to move objects with his mind. Although I’ve never experienced that power, I had a lot of fun playing with his new abilities–like bending iron bars and unlocking doors.

As they say–use what you know. And if you don’t know it personally look it up. Or if it’s a paranormal ability, make up the details.

What about you? Have you had some scary experiences that have become touchstones?


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Rebecca York

About Rebecca York

NY Times & USA Today best-seller, Rebecca York, is the author of over 150 books. She has written paranormal romantic thrillers for Berkley and romantic thrillers for Harlequin Intrigue. Her new romantic-suspense series, Decorah Security, is set at a detective agency where agents have paranormal powers or work paranormal cases. She also writes an Off-World series where each story is a science fiction romance taking place on a distant planet in the far future.  View website

12 Replies to “Use What You Know”

  1. Thought-provoking column, Ruth. I’ve had several weird incidents. In one instance, I knew that a friend of mine who worked for a bookseller was about to fly down south on a business trip. I heard on the news that a big ice storm was headed that way. I got a weird feeling and decided to call my friend. I told him to drive, not fly. Trust me. He drove. The plane he would have taken crashed; no survivors. And in 1982, heavy snow was predicted. I called my sister the night before the storm and insisted she wear her boots the next day. She didn’t like taking orders – but she did it. The next day, the snow was ferocious. My sister commuted to Washington, DC. When the train got back to Baltimore, she and a train companion couldn’t drive through the heavy snow. The friend was a marine. He and my sister walked from Penn Station to the suburbs. Good thing she had those boots on, huh?

  2. I know what you mean about the world slowing down in a catastrophic event, Ruth. I’ve been in a few accidents (two with my baby daughter in the backseat) where it felt like I’d entered a space continuum- very strange feeling!

  3. When I was taking care of my daughter 2 years ago at her house, I’d been up 24/7 for days. I was carrying a cup of tea upstairs to her when I tripped on the stairs, wiped out, fell forward, and hit my forehead on a wrought iron stair spindle. OMG. Pain like you wouldn’t believe! I knew I needed to go to the hospital, but I wasn’t able to drive to an ER. She sure couldn’t take me, plus she could not be left alone. I put ice on it, checked my eyes for pupil reaction, and told myself I was okay. I had 2 black eyes the next day.

    I’m telling all this because every time I see a scene where someone head butts another using the forehead, I know in real life, they’d both fall on the floor moaning and groaning. In real life, you’d be an idiot to do that, and you sure wouldn’t be standing afterwards, much less fighting!

  4. Heavens! So glad you survived your experiences and have lived to use them effectively. I’d rather rely on my imagination, remain in one uninjured piece and hope for the best.

  5. Amazing how the brain alters time and memory. Mot of us believe important events would be etched in our memory, every detail perfectly recalled. And yet…in my college journalism class the professor staged a mock crime. He enlisted a student none of us in the class knew to barge in, shove the professor against the wall, scoop his wallet from his pocket and rush out. The incident lasted perhaps 20 seconds. After the “perp” had vanished, the professor confessed he’d sent this “crime” up, then asked us–the witnesses– to describe the offender. Debates broke out. Some of us were convinced the mugger was fair (or swarthy), wore jeans (or chinos) was tall (short.) As we described the event, stories differed markedly. A good lesson for future reporters that witnesses, in good faith, remembered even major moments differently. He alerted us that shock distorts memory and that personality and biases of witnesses play a role in recording and recalling events. I remembered that when I served on a grand jury years later,

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