As a writer, I know there are times when you’re sitting there staring at a blank document. You’ve tried to get what’s in your head out onto the page but it’s just refusing to come out quite right.
I know that there are times when you’re editing one of your pieces and you cringe at how contrived some of your plot elements seem to be.
I know there are times when your character dialogue sounds wooden and hollow and no amount of thesaurus-ing can liven it up.
For those times, I will say to you the following words.
Write what you know.
It’d advice that I picked up from a turn of the century writer, Jack London. In his semi-autobiographical Martin Eden, the protagonist bemoans the fact that everything he tries to write sounds hollow and contrived, whereupon he yells at himself. Telling himself that he can’t hope to capture nature and the world with his pen if all he’s ever known is the city he grew up in; the tiniest corner of the world.
London followed that advice. He went out to become an oyster pirate. He voyaged to Japan on a sealing expedition and he went up north to the Klondike during the great gold rush.
When he writes of these things, there is a power and resonance to his words. His words become real in a way that can’t be imitated off the cuff.
But this is a pretty vague example, isn’t it?
That’s a scene near the beginning of a game called Heavy Rain. And from watching it, I’m 100% sure that SOMEONE on the team that designed that scene lost their child at the mall. Someone on the design team has experienced that panic.
Someone on that design team has woken in the middle of the night in a cold sweat as their mind played out the event to a nightmarish conclusion.
I have friends with children who have a hard time watching that scene, even if it’s just from a game. It’s just too damned real, everything from the slight accusation in the wife’s voice to the rising panic of the father as he desperately mistakes a random child as his son.
Now I’m not saying that you need to go out and lose your kid in a mall,go out on a seal-hunting expedition, or only write about the everyday world to write well, but by injecting various facets of your own personal life experience into your writing, you can fake that sense of authenticity.
Maybe you narrowly avoided a car accident on the way to work today. Do you remember the sudden adrenaline dump? The way your hands trembled with the aftershock? How about the mix of heady relief and irrational fury?
Channel that! Have a character narrowly avoiding being shot in Victorian England or have them narrowly avoid being mauled by a Jovian dragon while sailing the storms of Jupiter.
Maybe one of your friends have a very distinctive way of speaking? Have one of your characters utilize that same mannerism, whether they’re a teenage werewolf with a lisp or an alien life form from another dimension that talks like he’s from the ghetto because that’s how it learned the language.
You don’t have to write events or people in your life exactly as they occur, but by poaching some of those elements and slipping them into your writing, you might find that your story gains a degree of realism that may otherwise be lacking.