Write What You Know?

When I first started writing people, that is to say people that gave me advice about writing, always told me to ‘write what you know’.  This is good advice, as can be seen from a couple of my early writing projects…which you never will see…writing what you don’t know tends to wind up sounding like you don’t know what you’re talking about.  I know, it’s unbelievable.  So, writing what you know = good idea.

However there’s something even more important that no-one ever told me as an early writer.  Write what you ARE.  When we write characters the aspects of those characters have to come from somewhere, generally two options readily present themselves.

Option 1: Base characters on people around you or figures you can research easily

Option 2: Base characters on aspects of your own personality

Now if you don’t have any personality you should probably go with option 1.  However, being that you’re a writer, I think it’s a safe bet that you have personality to spare, probably bursting out of you and annoying all of your friends.  If you look deep enough you’ll find everything you need for the vast majority of your characters right there, of course this requires some introspection and a willingness to be honest with yourself.  Moreover these characters will be both easier to write and feel more real.  Why? Because they’re a part of you.  When you write about someone else you wind up guessing at a lot of their personality, lets face it, even the people we know well surprise us fairly often.  When you write from what you are then everything you need to write that character is right there at your proverbial fingertips, all you have to do is learn how to access it on a regular basis.  That and construct spectacular prose and an intriguing plot, but that’s not what we’re talking about right now.

Most of the time your characters will be one of the driving forces behind your story, and they should be…without the characters there is no story, just a text-book.  So, that’s my take, don’t just write what you know, write what you are, who you are, let all the little voices in your head out onto paper.  Maybe then you’ll stop talking to yourself too.


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