My husband and I were driving back from Thanksgiving number 1 this weekend and a song by Marcy Playground came on the radio. Now I can only name one Marcy Playground song in total but that happened to be it. And it took me right back to high school.
This ignited conversation about high school--something that's kind of neat to discuss between me and my husband because we went to the same school but never knew one another while we were there. He was a senior and I, a lowly freshman.* So when he tells me about teachers or classes or other students I often already know some of the back-story about them.
While I quizzed my husband about what details he does and doesn't remember, however, I was amazed that he seemingly recalls it all. From his homeroom to his locker number and whose lockers were beside his to his morning routines driving into school with a couple of friends, picking up coffees, and goofing around.
My memories, however, seem much more centered on "events" and extracurriculars. I remember distinct things like homecoming and getting my braces off and reading some seminal literature in my advanced English class. I can tell you how our team did in nearly every soccer game or what events I planned for student council or what time I ran in track to reach my personal record but my locker number? Forget it.
I realized, however, that to be able to write a character thoroughly authors need to know all the things I remember as well as all the things my husband does. We need the complete picture.
We truly need to know everything about our characters lives and their motivations. We need to know not only what they do in school but everything they do outside of school. My husband and I then began to discuss these very things. What were we doing back then for fun? How did we get around before we had cars? What movies and other music were in vogue?
And then, to my astonishment, when we returned home one of my all-time favorite movies from high school (freshman year to be exact) was on: Clueless.
And I realized I remember exactly where I was and who I was with when I saw this movie for the first time: Oneonta, NY with my cousin Caitlin. So perhaps the details of my childhood are all still here and what I need to do as a good author is ask myself the same kinds of questions I ask my characters. In that way, perhaps my writing of high school can be more informed by experience than observation. In an interview with YA author Lauren Oliver she said, "the novelist Chuck Wachtel told me...aim for truth and beauty will follow. Aim for beauty, and truth will not necessarily follow." If we can tap into our experiences and the highs and lows of young adulthood and translate this (when applicable) to our characters then we've already accomplished the biggest writing hurdle of all.
So while I adored Clueless and saw it as the epitome of cool when I was 14, I'd love to hear from you and what you remember as being "all that" in high school. I do believe recalling what shaped us, what we put on a pedestal, what infiltrated the media channels all around us are important observations that will help us move closer to that "truth" that Oliver discusses.
*ie. 14-years-old with two overprotective older brothers