Weekly Musing: Need Not Apply

Something I’ve frequently heard is that writing teaches people to try new things, pushes us out of our comfort zone, and to experience the world. Since I’ve been doing this for a few years now, I must say I don’t think this is true. At least not for me. The older I get the more I’m willing to try new things, but within reason and within my comfort zone; however, I don’t view these experiences as fodder for my writing. Somehow I think if I did it would take away from enjoying the experience. I equate it to tucking away my cell phone whenever I go anywhere new. I occasionally take pictures if I remember and feel inclined, but I would rather just absorb the place and the experience.

I understand the sentiment behind getting out and trying new things as a writer. Not only does it get us out of the house and around other people, new places and experiences help our understanding of the world. What I disagree with is the notion I am supposed to immediately catalogue those new feelings and experiences. Or to only live life so that I can use it later for a story. Why not just live life for the sake of living life?

This brings me to another rule or philosophy I hear frequently but disagree with. A piece of advice I see is, as a writer, we should eavesdrop on conversations because it could be a gold mine. Hmmmm, um, how about no. I’m not saying I don’t sometimes just sit there and listen to other people’s conversations. I do and think it’s natural for humans to do. When I do target my hearing to spy upon people, it’s usually because I’m staring into space while thinking. I’m fascinated by how people speak; their accents, emphasis upon certain words, turn of phrases, the speed and cadence, all of it is interesting.

I’m not so much drawn in by what people are discussing as that feels like an invasion of privacy even if the conversation is taking place in public. For this reason I absolutely cannot bring myself to jot down or commit to memory what people say. Not to sound snobby or self-righteous, it feels very unoriginal to me to mine other people’s conversations for story ideas. Granted, some people have some very compelling and unique stories which would make for great tales.

Which leads me to another piece of advice I try to stay away from and that is base characters off of people you know. A funny phrase I see is something to the effect of don’t annoy, anger, or interrupt a writer because you may wind up in their story, usually as a dead body. I guess this bothers me because what if the person reads the story and recognizes himself or herself?

I’m not suggesting we as writers try to be PC because that annoys me to no end. People are going to be offended no matter what. What I’m suggesting is know your audience. Some people are okay with being included, regardless of how they are portrayed.

I suppose one solution is to give the person a heads up before publication of said story. I don’t think it’s helpful to let the person know when you are drafting and later send the story out for publication. After all, if it doesn’t get accepted, what’s the point?

Another solution is to pick people who are dead or people whom you don’t mind rankling their feathers. Or cherry-pick characteristics Victor Frankenstein-style and mash them altogether. Or stick to physical characteristics, which is something I did for a minor character in my WIP. I did that since this person suggested I have a character with a certain name. As an ode to that person I made the character look like him but that’s where it starts and stops.

I can’t fully express why these suggestions bug me so much. They aren’t the only pieces of writerly advice that I disagree with it, but these are the ones which I’ve always found annoying. Maybe it’s because I have this contradictory natural tendency to only follow rules and advice which make sense to me. Perhaps I’m making it even harder for myself by not pulling from real life. Honestly, though, the characters in my mind shape themselves and their unique experiences shape them just as any “real” person.

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