More Adventures in Method Writing (or, About That Time I Fell Off My Bike Due to Black Ice)

thermometer

My right knee was covered in road rash.  My left thigh is still sporting a huge, multi-hued bruise.

(When a bruise actually shows up on a black person, you know it must be bad.)

Anyone who’s read my blog for while knows that I ride my bicycle a lot.

I’m a cycle-commuter – I ride 8km roundtrip to work every day, as well as on various errands and social outings in and around Vancouver, where I live.  With the proper outer layers, Vancouver weather is rideable 95% of the year.

But what about that last 5%?  Hailing from eastern Canada as I do, I’m well aware that black ice is a thing – a transportation hazard by car, foot, and definitely by bike whenever wet roads are subjected to temperatures right around the 0°C mark, plus or minus a degree.

I also knew black ice was a thing on this particular day two weeks ago because the morning traffic report was jam-packed with news of accidents on account of it.  So too did I recall the advice of the bike shop employee when I used their compressor to top up my tires another two weeks earlier.

“You don’t want to inflate them too much,” he said.  “It’s good to have a bit more traction in winter.”

Screw traction. I wanna be able to go fast!   I didn’t say this, but it was more or less my thinking as I proceeded to inflate my tires to, at most, a hair less pressure than I usually do.

But I wasn’t riding fast on the day in question.  As I signalled my right turn to the oncoming vehicle waiting to turn left on an otherwise deserted street, I was going so slowly, it seems impossible I had no forewarning of what happened some three seconds later.

I felt no flash of panic.  My mind exclaimed nothing along the lines of Oh shit, I’m sliding, I’m falling!  I didn’t try to recover because I wasn’t aware anything was occurring that I should try to recover from.

Literally one moment, I was rounding a corner and the next, I was on my back in the middle of the road.

A method to my madness

I’ve written before about my experiences with method writing – that it to say, the adaptation of the Stanislavski Method of acting into my writing life.

This involves drawing upon my past experiences and emotions to guide my portrayal of a character.  It’s my go-to practice for both understanding my characters thoughts and actions and for figuring out the proper language to describe them.

It wasn't until I saw this stock photo that I was able to make sense of the pattern of wounds on my body

It wasn’t until I saw this stock photo that I was able to make sense of the pattern of wounds on my body

I find myself especially applying the Method to negative experiences, even ones I have no immediate intention to parlay into writing.

Some people, when faced with emotional or physical pain, turn to their Bible or write in a journal.  Me, I often ask myself, how would I describe this in a story?

My response to my unfortunate cycling accident has been no different.

“What can I observe about this experience that could be useful in my writing?” I’ve been asking myself since it happened.

As previously mentioned, the incident happened unbelievably fast.  So much so that it’s only after I was already horizontal on the asphalt that I’m able to catalogue the sequence of my thoughts in the moment.

It went something like this:

I’m on the ground.  Holy crap, I fell off my bike!

Did I hit my head?

(Always important to know when a cyclist has an accident, although, as always, I was wearing a helmet.)

My knee hurts.  I hit my knee.

Did I rip my tights?

(I was wearing a skirt and tights at the time, and yes, I did rip the tights, although not too badly.)

Ow.  Is my knee bleeding?

(Again, yes, but because my tights were black and only slightly ripped, I couldn’t tell at the time.)

I should get up off the road.

(This thought only now occurring to me, and only because the driver of the car waiting to turn left called out his window asking if I was okay, which reminded me where I was.)

Ow, my thigh hurts too.  And my hand.

Oh no, my soup!

(This in response to seeing my bike lying on its side.  Inside my pannier was a glass jar of soup I’d packed as part of my lunch.  Assuming the jar hadn’t shattered from the impact, I worried the contents had spilled since the jar lid tends to leak.)

Oh, there’s my handlebar end plug.

(This is a tiny piece of black plastic about half an inch in length that I noticed had come loose from the impact and was lying on the road.)

A lesson in little details

One of my most notable observations about the experience relates to the way I returned awareness of myself, as presented above.

It’s shocking to me how was disjointed, fragmentary, and at times nonsensical it was, beginning with an incredibly close frame of focus before eventually recognizing my broader surroundings and persisting danger I was in.

(Heaven be praised it happened on a more or less empty street.)

To others, perhaps, this understand is nothing new.  But for someone like me, who’s never really been in an accident and experienced the sort of blackout often owning to such, the discovery was a revelation.

My bruised leg, the day of the fall

My bruised leg, the day of the fall

So how can I use this in my writing?

Well, right off the bat, it made me think about being in a fight.  A fight where someone just got their butt kicked.

I mean like seriously kicked.  The kind of fight with brutal force and just this side of deadly intent.  A fight where the losing opponent just got clocked six ways from Sunday.

In the next novel I plan to write, I have a fistfight scene in mind, told from the point of view of the person who loses.  It’s a key scene plot-wise – one that occurs near the climax and has important repercussions for a number of characters.

It’s also what’s sometimes referred to as a candy-bar scene, meaning one I’m really excited about writing but purposely won’t until it occurs naturally in sequence.  However, to maintain my writing motivation and encourage ongoing progress toward it, I will fantasize about it endlessly.

Falling off my bike has done wonders in helping me flesh out a lot of enhancing details of this scene in my mind – not only in the immediate aftermath of the character being dealt a finishing blow, but also afterward during the various stages of the healing process.

During my own healing, I’ve noticed things I never would have expected otherwise, such as how, because I had injuries on both legs, for days I couldn’t sit with my legs crossed in either direction.

Like how, in the first week, I could still bend my banged-up knee no problem.  But during the second week, as new skin and scabs formed over the wound, it got progressively harder achieve the full range of flexion.

Like how the wound in turn would feel hot, cold, would sting, would throb in time with my heartbeat, and at times feel like it had reopened with blood pouring down my leg all while I was just sitting doing nothing.

And how the bruise went from red to blue to black to purple to back to red again before finally starting to fade, which was very educational indeed for someone who’s never had a visible bruise before.

To be sure, I’ve definitely learned my lesson about cycling on wet roads in near-zero degree temperatures.  But I’m also glad that the experience – like almost all personal experiences, one way or another – will play a role in helping make me a better writer.

Have you ever adapted something bad that’s happened to you in your writing?  Something good?  Do you consider yourself a method writer?  Tell me about it in the comments.

(Image source #1, #2, and #3 – J.G. Noelle)

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16 thoughts on “More Adventures in Method Writing (or, About That Time I Fell Off My Bike Due to Black Ice)

  1. I am so glad that you are okay! I was totally impressed that you’ve never sustained a serious bruising before. Do make sure that any lingering pain is checked out. The thing about tires is great for vehicles as well. It is tough on the tire but if you release a bit of air…maybe 10-15% then your traction will be fabulous.
    Like you, I do use my personal experiences to build my characters. Take care Janna.
    I am looking forward to getting together with everyone. 🙂

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    • I’ve definitely had bruising before, you just couldn’t see it. You’ve heard the expression “black don’t crack”; well black don’t show bruising very often either. 🙂

      When I do take my bike out again (as soon as the new snow on my street melts because it doesn’t look like anyone’s coming to plow it), I’ll let a bit of air out of my tires. It was partly my pride that got me and also partly my laziness. Biking up steep hills is soooo much easier when you’ve got rock solid tires.

      Looking forward to seeing you again too!

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  2. Oh my gosh did this recently happen? Glad you’re still in one piece. But you’re right, these experiences are helpful for writers. I’ve made very good use of all my slips into unconsciousness and near death experiences. I’m not accident prone, I’m just… living life fully, I guess. 🙂

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    • It happened two weeks ago. The first few days afterward were painful, then my healing really sped up (getting proper sleep seemed to help), so now I’m about 95% back to normal. I was just looking forward to taking my bike out again but it’s snowed for the last four days with more coming tomorrow.

      I’m glad to hear you’re not accident prone. Stay safe. Live life fully with emphasis on the “live” part. 🙂

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  3. It goes without saying that I’m glad you are okay. I hope replaced your helmet. They’re usually only rated for one event.

    If it helps your story: I once lost a fist fight by the rather lopsided score of 4 punches and 6 kicks to zero. I didn’t feel any of it until later. Adrenaline is an impressive painkiller.

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    • I know about the lifespan of helmets, but I didn’t actually hit my head. I checked the whole thing and there wasn’t a mark on it. Not even the red light mounted on the back of it broke. I didn’t actually thing I had when I asked myself if I hit my head. I was just confused by how I had no recollection of falling to the ground and that was the easiest explanation I could come up with.

      That’s what makes the experience so bizarre (and also so interesting): I wasn’t mentally present for most of it. Did I pass out from fright or something? Did I get zapped by an alien mind ray? But more importantly, what were you fighting about during the fisticuffs where you lost so epically?

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  4. Some day I will dig out and send you the photo that was taken of me a couple weeks after my immune system mistakenly destroyed all my platelets. Without platelets, your blood can’t clot, so any little bump causes a bruise, banging your shin turns half your leg purple, and a minor cut could be life threatening. Then you’ll know what a friend looks like after they’ve taken the kind of beating your character is going to get. I can also tell you how it feels to look like that for weeks (and it is weeks). Even though it was July I had to wear long sleeves and long pants whenever I left the house so people wouldn’t freak out and demand to know who did that to me. (for the record, no, it didn’t hurt, because only the capillaries and small blood vessels were ruptured/leaking, no muscle or other tissues were damaged).

    Happy to contribute person experience to help you with your Method anytime!

    (And yes, glad you are ok, and I don’t understand people who don’t wear helmets. Especially the people who put helmets on their kids but don’t wear one themselves. Who’s going to look after your kids when you’re brain damaged?)

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    • Wow, Rhonda. Was that before I met you? That sounds awful, even if it didn’t hurt. And you bring up another important consideration: the judgement of others that results when a person turns up somewhere all black and blue (as well as how that judgement varies depending upon the gender of both the judger and judgee).

      I kinda do want to see that picture, as gruesome as it sounds. I’m also very curious about the condition you had; I’ve never heard of anything like that before.

      I always wear a bike helmet now although I must confess there was a time in the past when I didn’t. I was a much more casual rider then (not that that’s an excuse), but now that I’m making a daily commute, at times in traffic with cars, I’d never leave home without my headgear.

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  5. Sorry I missed this post somehow – and glad you’re all right.

    As for using the experience, what else do you have to use? Imagination?

    I do the same thing – I cast about into my own life for something I can transmogrify into an experience that I need, so there is verisimilitude that can pull a reader through the fake stuff I’ve invented.

    In Pride’s Children, I had to write a bar fight. I didn’t write a bar fight, I wrote the details around a quick chronology – and no one has ever said it doesn’t work for them. It took me weeks. It would have been much easier to go out and provoke a bar fight!

    That picture of the woman on the ground with the bike still between her legs is perfect – I can imagine where all the best bruises are. Hope they’re gone by now.

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    • Thanks. By now, the bruise has completely faded and the road rash is all gone, replaced by a patch of shiny, pink new skin that has yet to take on its proper pigmentation. I didn’t have my bike still between my legs when I snapped back to awareness – rather, it slid right out from under me and ended up a couple feet away. But this picture helped me figure out the CSI of the incident, in particular where the bruise came from because I had no idea.

      I think, at their core, all things we write about come from personal experience, for that’s how we manage to imbue them with their necessary emotional impact on the characters. That is our writer’s empathy and that, in a nutshell, is Method. For specific plot level story events themselves, though, we can also draw from imagination, from research, from someone else’s experience (that could fall under research), things we ourselves have actually experienced, or some combination of the aforementioned.

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