Many writers have heard the phrase “Write what you know.”
It’s good advice that is commonly misunderstood. Does it include writing about things you’ve done in your life? Of course it does. If you’re a lawyer and intend to write about a character who shares that career, then that is perfect! You know what the character needs to do and how a lawyer thinks.
But is it really all about what you think?
Emotions play a large part in writing, not to mention day-to-day life. That anger you feel when someone talks down to you as if they’re better, or that elation when things go your way; both of these feelings and other emotions that exist are extremely important.
For this, we’ll take an example. Almost everyone has had their heart broken at some point in life. While there are many causes, let’s take the simplest; a break-up.
You’re horrified, you’re hurt, and often feel like you can’t go on.
If you’ve felt that before, chances are, you can describe it in such a way that someone who hasn’t felt it, can’t. If a character you write about suffers, you’ll know how best to describe it to bring the emotions to life. The same goes for other emotions.
Anger, love, pain, sadness, and so many more.
Yes, things you know from experience are important – like your career, or things you’ve done in your life. On the other hand, the emotions are what you need to truly bring them to life in your stories. You can write the most detailed description of a day in a lawyer’s life, but without the emotion to spice things up and make it real, it’s not the same.
The day you moved out of your parents’ house; how did you feel? Remembering that could come in handy if you write Young Adult. Your first job interview. How nervous were you? Following up on that: Your first day at work, or your first day at college.
All of these are common, natural things that everyone goes through – even fictional characters. Use your experience to make readers relate, by making your characters feel.
Give it a try. Pick an event in your life and write about it. Make a character endure it and see how it turns out. Share it in the comments if you want! I’d love to see what you come up with.
Most of all, just remember that life experiences and writing what you know don’t just mean the events themselves – but how it felt for you to go through them.