April 04, 2014
I understand that it's common for novice writers to ask (themselves if not others) "what should I write about?" To which the standard answer is "write what you know."
That's not much help though, is it? How much do any of us know about anything, especially in our twenties when a lot of people start writing?
On the flip side, what is the one thing that most of us have experienced at least once by that time?
If you read my post last Friday you'll know the answer. :-) Romance, of course.
It's extremely uncommon for anyone to have made it through adolescence without at least one love affair. This might manifest as innocuously as a schoolroom crush on a classmate; it might be a bloody disaster akin to Romeo & Juliet (which, by the way: not much of a romance).
By the time I met my husband, at 32, I had experienced varying degrees of romantic connection - including chaste flirtations and unrequited crushes - with twenty-three different members of the opposite sex.
And I think I'm fairly representative of women who don't get married young. (I've actually dated a lot less than many women I know.) We have relationships. We flirt, we date, we fall in love, we live together, we break up. We don't actually sit at home alone and sing to ourselves about how someday my prince will come, and we don't actually just surround ourselves intentionally with people it's impossible to have a relationship with.
"Going with" someone in middle school, when all that means is that you sit together at lunch? - that counts. Dating someone in high school, necking after a school dance with someone you're notdating, flirting with a co-worker? All of those count.
They are not insignificant events. Each one of those events could prompt a story. And it could be a story in any genre. The point is that if one of these relationship events is a precipitating event in a story, then it's important.
And if it happened to you, then it's what you know.
Thanks to the Internet, it's amazingly easy to do research now. When I think of the hours and the thousands of pages of reading that went into my first novel ... . Well, suffice to say, doing the amount of research necessary to establish a character's profession is now a mere bagatelle.
We don't have to personally experience being a veterinarian or a filmmaker to be able to convey that profession with sufficient detail to ensure realism. (And that said, the writers who don't bother to do even that amount of research are writers to avoid.)
In my view, story comes from character, and character is formed by experience. The most memorable events of our lives - the most memorable experiences - generally occur in the context of a relationship. Sometimes these are family relationships or friendships, but odds are the highest highs and the lowest lows come from intimate relationships.
Certainly they have in my life. As annoying as a given job might have been, it's never generated the kind of angst that a romantic failure has. And as great as a day with a girlfriend might have been, it doesn't beat the best days with the man I love.
Every character I've written has a chunk of me inside. Because when it comes right down to it, what I know is ... me.