Writing Who You Know

A popular piece of writing advice is to write about what you know. Taken literally, if we only wrote about exactly what we personally have knowledge of or experience with, we probably wouldn’t be able to write the stories that we do. The same applies to who you know. Most of us aren’t on speaking terms with murderers, ghosts, aliens, mini purple spotted giraffes, or any of the other people and creatures that find their ways into our worlds. This is good really, because if some of them really were in our lives we probably wouldn’t be very comfortable, and could possibly be institutionalized for sharing the fact that certain others of them were.  Hey there purple spotted guy.

We writers have to get to know our characters intimately if we want them to come alive in our stories, because readers can tell when we don’t. Off the top of my head I couldn’t possibly think of why any person would walk down a street hurling loud curses and foul language at innocent passersby, and nor could I imagine how it would feel to be unable to stop doing that. Sounds really farfetched to me to begin with. A little bit of searching would reveal Tourette Syndrome, and with a bit more digging I could get a very fair idea of the reality of it happening every day.  More reading would show me how it must feel.  So then I’d know how my guy would feel as he jerked and twitched down the road, and swore at shocked and laughing strangers on his way to buy his bread and milk. He would feel awful, and helpless, and angry. I couldn’t possibly write him without reading about the lives of the people who actually have to deal with that on a daily basis. Some things you just can’t make up.

Researching our character’s inner selves is just as important as researching our locations and general facts for our fiction, and even though it can sometimes be uncomfortable, it has to be done if you want your people to be relatable to. My research into true good and evil for my science-fiction series often gave me the serious heebie-jeebies, but it was worth it. My forays into the minds of the abused and the dangerously mentally disturbed have been equally uncomfortable, but I’ve had enough readers enquire if I was writing non-fiction as fiction to make me happy that I took the trouble.

With most mainstream fiction we can easily plot out our characters from those in our own lives, or those that we’ve come across at some time or another, but for those shady guys – the villains or the damaged, or those so cold that we couldn’t just imagine their thought processes, for those guys we sometimes have to immerse ourselves in their dark and strange worlds for a while. Good old Google. The mini purple spotted giraffes? Well – I think pretty much anything goes in their case.


Image Courtesy Pixabay

Author: jorobinson176

South African writer.

14 thoughts on “Writing Who You Know”

  1. I know no-one like that and resent the implication that I do. It’s common knowledge that my acquaintances (can’t call them friends) are yellow striped.Recant I tell you, recant!
    xxx Massive Hugs beautiful Jo xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post and true, Jo. Learning about people is the first step. Then we can immerse ourselves emotionally in their stories, which is where the real magic of writing comes in. It can be emotionally and physically disturbing when characters are terribly flawed. I agree that readers can tell the difference between the surface presentation and a character that was researched, embraced, and lived. 🙂


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