This blog is chugging along at a nice pace, which means there are a lot of posts, and I’m going to be touching on a lot of the same ideas. Because of this, I’ve decided to include links whenever I refer to something I’ve said in the past. Obviously you don’t have to click them, but if you do want to check back and reread what I said so you know what I’m referring to, you’ll now be able to.
That being said, I’d like to refer back to my post about writing what you know. I stand by what I said in that post, but I thought I’d expand a bit. This time I want to talk about when it’s appropriate to write what you know.
Most often, when I find myself writing what I know, it is when I’m trying to make my characters seem human. The one thing that you (hopefully) know better than your characters is how to be real, and sometimes you can use that to make them seem real, too. What I usually do is take my own personal experiences with quirks, flaws, and traits, and I sprinkle those things throughout my stories.
For example, the first character I ever created, Shauna McKay, mentions once in her narration that she hates it when people tug on her hair. This comes directly from me. When I wear my hair in a ponytail, my dad often tugs on said ponytail, and I hate it. It’s just a thing about me that I can’t change, and other people probably wouldn’t mind it. So I used my own personal pet peeve to give my character depth, because nothing will make a fictional character seem more human than having very real, human quirks.
And, yes, I do this a lot. They’re not always my peeves or quirks, though. Sometimes I use my friends’ or my siblings’. Whatever comes to mind really. Whatever fits. Which is not to say that you can’t make up a quirk for your character.
It just so happens that the things that are inspired by real life have this great guarantee that they are absolutely true to real life. Even if people think you made them up, you’ll know that those things could absolutely happen because they actually have.
Now here’s a question: How many monkeys can be found in the average zoo? Here’s another question: What’s so important about giving your characters these little quirks? Well, I kind of already said it. The answer I’m going to give is that it makes your characters seem real. It gives them depth. It’s an added dimension to your story that people might not consciously look for, but when they see it, they might smile a little and think, I know someone who does that. Or even, That’s so funny. I do that all the time. You yourself might have thought that at one point or another while reading a story. And if that happens when someone is reading your work, then you get this wonderful thing where your reader begins to relate to your character, and the more they do that, the more invested they become in the story. If your goal is to have your reader sympathize with your character(s) and become invested in your story, then giving your characters these extra traits can help accomplish that. This all has to do with character development, something else I’ve talked about before. I believe I called it a swirling vortex of doom. These idiosyncrasies are part of that.
In conclusion, it’s okay to write what you know sometimes. I do it often when I need to draw on my humanity to make my characters seem human. I also make up things when I need to, things that are more believable than Duck Girl up there. For example, Shauna also has a thing she does that I don’t do – she carries a sketch pad with her wherever she goes and draws people. I made that up completely. I don’t know anyone who does that, and, while I like drawing, I don’t do that either. But Shauna does, and that makes her unique. That’s all I wanted to say about that. At least for now.
Word of the Day: Idiosyncrasy (n) – a characteristic, habit, mannerism, or the like that is peculiar to an individual