Monday, March 3, 2008

Use Life to Fuel Your Writing

There are those who would say that on some level we're all very much alike. We run around, living our lives, completely sure that no one out there knows our pain or what we've been through. When we're upset we generally don't like to hear that someone thinks they know how we feel. But there always seems to be someone out there who feels like they can match or trump what we're going through. That's definitely one way of looking at it. I suppose.
In truth, it isn't really what I subscribe to. For some strange reason I think we're all some kind of something special. We may have certain traits in common but each new and unique situation changes us, molds us, takes us from who we were to who we will someday be. In essence, we've all got a different way of looking at things. Our experiences and our reactions make us who we are. It's what gives us an edge as writers. Drawing on our uniqueness gives us strength, it allows us to bring something to the table that no one else can replicate.
More often than not I tend to write what some would consider to be 'dark' material. Would I say that I have been through a few things and have seen sides of people that would fuel those tendencies? Definitely. Do I ever feel like writing about those things in particular? Not really. That doesn't mean that I don't use my experiences in my writing, it just means I don't wear my heart on my sleeve and flaunt my heartaches. You don't need to pour your heart out in your stories to write with passion and capture the essence of your experiences.
Have you ever seen someone do something horrible to another person or group of people without feeling that they were doing something wrong? Have you ever done something with the best intentions only to have it blow up in your face? How did that make you feel?
As writers we can learn a great deal from life and from others around us. I've talked to more people than I can count over the years who have said something to the effect of, "Man, I could write a book about this place, it would be a best seller for sure." That's because we're all interesting characters. I don't think many of those 'books' would do as well because real people don't make very good story fodder and they often get upset if they feel you wrote them wrong.
Like mad scientists we have to take those interesting characters and the awkward situations and distill them down to their base ingredients. We have to ask, what makes a character like this tick? Why would this man suddenly decide to veer from the path of the work-place evangelist and tread into the sinful ways of the miscreant who decides to add a little yellow coloring to the coffee pot? What could make a 'good man' go bad? Further yet, what would it take to bring a character to the point where a sudden change of principles is acceptable to them? The truly diabolical writer asks, "What can I do to this character to make them do something they wouldn't normally do?" Treating your characters as real people will help you to bring them to life for your readers. Why would a character guard a secret for half a book and then suddenly decide to spill the beans? If the answer is plot twist then you haven't done your job. The reason has to be from within the character, the plot twist is bonus. If you haven't given your character a reason then your readers won't swallow the pill. If you want me to drink the koolaid you better hide the rat poison.
A good way to learn about people and situations in life is to observe them and then write down your observations. Over time you will gain a better understanding of why people do the things they do. You may never fully understand why someone might urinate into the coffee pot, but you will understand that people have limits, and what happens when those limits are broken isn't always pretty.

Check out my earlier post about keeping a Journal. If you aspire to be a writer and you don't have a journal or diary yet, I highly suggest you start the habit!

Writing Exercise:


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