Wednesday, July 21, 2010

One of the Best Things About Writing Fiction

I remember reading somewhere (Bird by Bird maybe?) that Anne Lamott wrote with intensive clarity on gardening in one of her books that she was cornered by gardeners who were very eager to Talk Gardening with her. It turns out Lamott is not into gardening. One of her characters was, so she had to learn all she could about gardening to make her character's actions believable.

For a while musician and writer Narissa Nield blogged about taking boxing lessons.  It's not that Narissa was into boxing, but one of her characters, inexplicably, was.  And in order to write about it properly, she needed to get suited up and step into a boxing ring and spar with a trainer herself.

Both of these writers did what they needed to do to make their characters and their writing authentic.  They learned what their characters would already know, they experienced the sights, the smells and the feel of what their characters lived.  Instead of imagining these things, they made each of them real for themselves so they could make the experiences real for their readers.

It's a very short step from this type of dedication to your characters and your writing to an absolutely waygreat excuse to do/try just about anything fun you've ever wanted to do.

Ever thought about hang gliding?  I have. (and not only when I think about listing The Things That Terrify Me for The Amazing Race)  For me, I can't justify the expense.  However, if I had a character that was into hang gliding, I'd have to try it, right?  (Right)  So why wait until I have a character already telling me that s/he hang glides and is waiting impatiently for me to do it myself to be able to write about it and do the experience justice?  Why not do it before I have such a character?  Who knows, maybe in the process of hang gliding I might start finding such a character and a story?

This excuse works for just about everything.  Look, your friends and family already know you have a different slant on life because of your writing, right?  They're used to you researching all sorts of "Where to Dump the Body" type of things.  Why should just about anything be out of the question, then?

I'm serious here.  Writing may be one of the most head-bangingly frustrating experiences I've ever voluntarily put myself through, but it also offers vindicates me from having to come up with any better excuse for trying something.

Eating really hot food?  There's a character for that.  Bungie jumping?  There's a character for that.  Beekeeping?  There's a character for that.  Knitting?  There's a character for that.  Playing boardgames that take days, if not weeks, to complete?  There's a character for that?  Learning French cooking?  There's a character for that.  Talking on a iPhone?  There's an app character for that.

Who cares if you don't have that character just yet -- or if you never do.  This is an unwritten perk of writing that we should happily exploit.

So, take full advantage of it and live life!

-- Tom


  1. I love this post! Bee-keeping is something I find fascinating and might have to try some day. I love trying new things, although I can tell you for sure that I'll never have an MC that sky dives--NOT my thing! :)

  2. Thanks!

    I spent a good part of the first of the year reading about beekeeping -- because I want to be a beekeeper. (I have a hive, but no equipment and, more importantly, no bees) Larry offered to give me some old beekeepers protective gear and mentioned he would be harvesting honey if I was interested in helping.

    While I was helping and taking photos I realized this was the perfect experience for writing about a character who was a beekeeper. (then it just took me a few months to write up this entry)

    Sky-diving might not be your thing, but it just might be one of your character's things. Be careful what you wish for!


  3. Van: now I expect you to make good use of it!


  4. Great post! When I was growing up my parents raised honey bees. I'd like to try my hand at canning.

  5. Hi Tom,

    Love the post. Will go ahead and add it for tomorrow's (okay, today's) Friday round-up of best articles for writeres. It's a long one, so hope you find more than half an hour! And absolutely you are welcome to call our attention to a post. We hope people do. We won't guarantee to put anything in, but we love the opportunity to take a look!

    Best regards,


  6. Tom--it's funny. This is the third time in a week that someone has talked about deliberately trying new experiences in the context of being a writer. What is the universe trying to tell me? (And why can't the universe be subtle? Am I that thick headed that it needs to hit me over the head with things over and over and over--and why am I so self centered that I think that the universe made you write this blog post solely for my benefit . . .)

    Nice post.

  7. Okay--P.S. That episode of the Amazing Race where one of the choices was to hang glide, and it was too windy for people to do it frustrated me. I want to see people do that sort of face their fear type things. And I love the Amazing Race.

    P.P.S I'm getting off my lazy butt and adding you to my blogroll so I don't keep missing excellent posts.

  8. i got together with the other two people who told you this and we agreed that this would be the week we collectively told you this. you've been stubborn and not paying close enough attention to the more subtle signs the Universe has been trying to give you on this point.

    so, yes. get out there and do something completely out of character for you but completely in character for one of your characters!

    (and thanks for the blogroll add!)

    p.s. the producers of TAR have had hang gliding as a choice in two seasons. the first time around, those who chose it were able to do so. the second time around, the winds prevented it.