Everyone knows that phrase uttered in every creative writing course. The famous, “write what you know.” This is solid advice for writers both new and experienced. My only problem is that people tend to take it at a face value. They assume they should only write about plots or settings that they know well. If that were the case, then fantasy and sci-fi wouldn’t exist. I doubt J. R.R. Tolkien truly experienced a trek to Mordor.
Writing what you know doesn’t always have to be a place. Sometimes putting qualities you see in yourself or those around you into your characters is writing what you know. Sometimes looking at the way people speak to one another or the way emotions are handled in times of stress or happiness is writing what you know. To create a character who breathes, it helps to be perceptive on the way real people think and act.
When I write, I tend to give my cast a few of my own flaws. This normally happens organically, but once I pick up on those characteristics I start to explore them. Since I know this trait firsthand, it becomes easier to write someone with the same faults or personality quirks.
I have a character I’m writing now who is a “golden boy.” He feels a great deal of pressure to make something of himself and he’s terrified of what will happen if he amounts to nothing. Yet, no one else in his personal life has placed this stress on him. His friends and family don’t care if he becomes someone important or not. Fame doesn’t mean much to any of them because they’re content with just finding happiness even if that means living a simple life. The sad thing is, he sees this and he understands this, but that stress just gnaws at him. He’s created this pressure himself and now he’s stuck with it.
This is an aspect of me. This is something I’ve gone through my whole life and am still dealing with. I just hope people find that rawness to the classic golden boy character. I know that when I fall in love with characters, I fall for ones who have this underlining realness to them.
When you write, don’t assume you’re tied to one place because you want to draw from your own life. Think about yourself. Think about the people you see everyday. Look at those characteristics and write them. Let your characters breathe.
Write what you know.