We’ve all heard the phrase, “write what you know”. Obviously, this is not a literal writing tool or we wouldn’t have the vast array of stories we do. What it all boils down to is character. Your characters must be real, believable, and encourage our sympathy or disdain (I mean who doesn’t love to hate a character? Have you all met Joffrey on Game of Thrones?). And for some reason, this is sometimes hard to do. We are people. We are surrounded by people everyday, and yet when writing them down, they somehow lose their substance.
The same for dialogue. Why is dialogue so difficult to write sometimes when we talk everyday? Another topic for another day.
I was having a conversation with my younger sister about dating habits. And it sparked the idea for this topic. There are different mindsets depending on age. The teen years are all hormones and angst – Everything is a tragedy. The twenties are about exploration and self-discovery – It’s all about the chase, the idea of someone. The thirties are about settling down and grown up responsibilities – There’s little patience for games. The forties are about finally being comfortable in your own skin…etc. Knowing the age of your main character and your audience might ease the storytelling process as many factors will already being in place, but obviously, don’t rely on those as crutches. No two people are the same, even from the same family. A great variety of personal, societal, and cultural differences separate us and unite us in our differences, no matter our age.
I’ve always been a people watcher. A trait among most writers, and a useful tool to build an arsenal to peruse come story time. I used to go to this tourist trap on the weekends with my best friend where we’d sit on the patio of our favorite cafe with our cappuccinos and watch the droves shop. Sometimes we’d make up stories, back stories, what-have-you for the strangers we found so fascinating; that’s his mistress, they’ve been married for three days, he’s afraid to tell her he gambled away their vacation money, etc. Experiencing more of life, knowing a variety of personalities adds to your knowledge bank and might help when fleshing out your characters.
As with any research, if there’s something you want to know about for your character, find the right avenue; speak to someone with the insight, read a psychology book, and definitely read The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. Find a family member, friend of a friend, or colleague that might be able to help you. Go sit somewhere where a cross-section of society might converge and listen, watch. Just remember, it’s the character that draws us in. No matter what the story is, no matter where it takes place or when, if we don’t care about the character’s struggle, we won’t care about the rest. And it doesn’t always have to be a “good guy” we’re invested in. There are plenty of anti-heroes (Rick from The Walking Dead) and likeable/redeemable “bad guys” we’ll follow (and who doesn’t love a bad boy? Why else is Loki of the Thor movies (and The Avengers) more popular than the title character? This would be wonderful opportunity to post another Tom Hiddleston picture, but…).
So explore the variety that is human nature. There’s lots to choose from. This might be where that “write what you know” phrase comes in handy. We already have a wealth of character information at our fingertips (family, friends, exes), and in some ways, our characters are extensions of ourselves. There is some facet of us in them. This is what we know. We just have to be brave enough to put it on the page.
Best of luck and have a great weekend!