My work in progress is about a boy and his three sisters who are caught on the wrong side of a wildfire. The writing is going well, or should I say it WAS going well until I hit the scene where the kids get turned around and are lost. Since I am a writer who needs to know the feelings of my characters, I tried to bring back that old memory of the time I got lost. I was only four or five and the place was just a cornfield, but I could't find my way out of it. All I could see was more and more rows of corn. I can remember sitting down on the ground and crying until my dad found me. I thought hours had passed, but it reality it was less than one. Scary? You bet. Helpful? Nope.
So, in an effort to tap into those emotions that I felt were necessary to complete this chapter and the next, I tried imagining how I would feel if I was lost. That didn't work either. I watched several movies--The Life of Pi, All is Lost, Into the Wild, The Grey, and even Far From Home. All of them are great survival movies. They are full of man against nature. For a few, I was back on the edge of my seat even though I've seen them all before, but I still couldn't put my finger on what I was looking for. I turned to books next. You know--A long Walk to Water, Hatchet, Julie of the Wolves, and of course, The Sign of the Beaver. Again, like the movies, these are all books I have read over and over. Still not what I was looking for.
Then the family went to Disneyland, and we took my granddaughter on the Pirates of the Caribbean. Now you need to understand that she hates the unknown, and we forgot about the two drops in the dark. She was overly anxious and even a bit scared when the boat pulled away from the entrance, and kept asking for reassurance. Then the first drop came. While most of the riders were ooing and ahhing, my granddaughter let out the most blood curdling scream I have ever heard. It was pure terror, and was quickly followed by, "Let me out! Let me out!" We had to hold her inside the boat or she would have jumped into the water and got hurt. On the next drop she was in tears, and yes, screaming. In fact, her screams set off all the other kids on the ride who were now telling their parents they wanted off and crying. It took multiple hugs, apologies, and promises to never, never go on that ride again to calm the fear.
Yesterday, my granddaughter asked me how my book was coming along. I explained that I was stuck because I couldn't put my finger on the various emotions my characters would feel when lost in a wild fire. "How about raging anger, cross your legs so you don't pee terror, and knowing you are going to die?" she said. "You know, what I felt when I was on that stupid ride you guys said I would love."
Out of the mouth of babes! This is exactly what I needed to move my novel forward. The lesson learned--when you are writing for kids and want to know how a kid would act at a certain moment, or are lost like I was--Ask a Kid!
Thank you, granddaughter.