My new WIP opens on a Caribbean island with a hurricane that brings the antagonistic hero and heroine together. I had the scenes all outlined in my mind like a movie. I knew my characters. I knew where they came from, where they were, and where they were going. But as I sat down to write this intense hurricane scene, I drew a blank. Something wasn’t clicking. I just wasn’t feeling the hurricane.
You’d think that being from the Caribbean, the hurricane hub of the Atlantic, I would have experienced quite a few hurricanes. The truth is, in the years that I lived on the island of St. Kitts I only experienced one real hurricane. That was hurricane Hugo in 1989. Of course I’d lived through quite a few tropical storms, but was totally unprepared for the fury of a category four hurricane.
I wasn’t the only one unprepared. Most of the island was. You see, it had been decades since the island had experienced a really devastating hurricane. I remember going to the store to pick up kerosene oil and hearing the shopkeepers scoff at the hurricane threat. I remember people were excited wanting to experience a hurricane (myself included). But not my mother. She was prepared with flashlights and batteries, kerosene lamps, coals for the coal pot and lots of non-perishable foods. I remember she filled lots of buckets with water for drinking (that was before bottled water became a fad on the island), and several basins and wash tubs with water for bathing.
I recall the calm before the storm: the full moon on the shore with nary a wave, sparkling ever so gently. I also recalled the boredom as I waited for the hurricane’s arrival. By the time the winds picked up, I was fast asleep. Then early the morning, as the winds tore at our house and the large guinip tree leaned precariously on to the roof, we made the tough decision seek shelter by my sister who lived two blocks away. The problem was, we did not have a vehicle. I was elected to run a few houses away to call on a neighbor with a taxi.
As I ran, I saw the trees bent at the middle, the lamp post leaning as if they were about to be snapped and the electric wires dangling from downed lines. That was when the danger hit me. Well I did make it to the neighbor and he did take us to our sister, where we rode out the storm in peace and safety… and boredom.
Then came the real danger of the hurricane: the aftermath. The power outages. The downed trees. The flies. No potable water on the island for days. When a tap (a single stand pipe at the sugar factory) was finally opened, lines of vehicles with people waiting to fill buckets of water extended almost five miles.
Fast forward to last week, 22 years after Hurricane Hugo. As I sat down to write my hurricane scene, I reflected on my one experience with a hurricane. I realized the problem. Back then I experienced Hurricane Hugo through the eyes of an excited youngster. I didn’t remember the sounds, the smells, the fear, the oppressive heat, and all the discomforts at that time. I saw the excitement of people coming together to clear the rubble with an almost party like atmosphere.
So for a few days I got nowhere on my WIP. Then Hurricane Irene struck the East Coast. And there I was to experience it: the desperation to obtain generators and D batteries; the stores that were cleared of bread and milk; the fervor of the news casters and the dire warnings of the governors and mayors to evacuate; the watchful waiting for the winds to pick up; the howling of the winds; the rain beating down in torrents; and the fear in my daughter’s eyes. It all came back to me then. The sights, the smells, the sounds, the emotions associated with the hurricane. And then the aftermath….
So I was able to write that hurricane scene, with lots of changes. Instead of focusing on the hurricane itself as dramatic as it is, the focus became the aftermath.
Sometimes, you just have to experience it, to write it.