We, and our characters, all exist in a public and a private life at the same time. I’m someone’s sister, wife, child, mother, friend, neighbour. I’m that person who loves the thrill of body surfing large breakers, and gets asthma when I eat garlic.
And I am also part of history. I was lashed by the storm on Nobbys Headland when the container ship, Pasha Bulka, crashed onto the beach. I sat among a sea of uniformed school children on the playground concrete and watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. I voted in the election that gave Australia her first elected woman Prime Minister.
The individual is history writ small. History is the individual writ large.
Understanding what historical events shaped you, and how they formed the way you perceive the world, is important to creating strong writing. Like you, your characters will have encountered historical events and endured personal experiences which shaped the way they view the world.
Ages ago I read a piece which placed the author’s horrendous divorce at the same time as the wedding between Prince Charles and Lady Diana. The intersection and resonance between this clash of public and private resulted in a powerful and deeply ironic piece of writing.
Another fine example is in Robert Fulgham’s ‘All I Really Need to Know I Learned at Kindergarten.’ He juxtaposes the most unlikely notions of laundering the clothes and redeeming mankind in a humorous and thought-provoking essay.
So next time your characters are faced with a personal crisis, take the time to consider the national or global events that may have shaped them and the way they perceive their world. Could any of those events resonate with your characters’ lives and could they be used as a framework to enrich your story?