SO WHAT SHOULD YOU WRITE ABOUT?
The standard advice and answer to this question is to “Write what you know.” Easy right? You do know that there are only 7 basic plots in literature…right? And there are 36 dramatic situations to fill out those plots. Every story is composed of one or more of these situations to tell a tale.
You have been observing human interaction and byplay from the first glimmer of your consciousness. You likely have whole scenes of dramatic dialog and action stored in that creative brain of yours. Ever been in a blizzard, a hurricane, or tornado? How about a car accident or been thrown from a horse? Every bit of experience that you have had in your life can serve as grist for your writing mill.
I people watch. There is a story in every trip to the mall. Sit in a quiet corner and let your eyes roam the flow of shoppers passing you by. A friend and I watched pretty woman and her boyfriend in a restaurant. They were holding hands across the table and whispering softly face to face when, out of the blue, her right hand jerked loose from his and she slapped him soundly across the face.
“CRAACK! The woman stands quickly and leans over the shocked man who is clutching his face—bright red welts are already forming. “Married! You’re married?! You bastard!” the woman shrieks as she turns, gathers up her purse and runs out of the restaurant. The stricken man jumps to his feet and starts after her, “Wait! Wait up! Let me explain…my wife doesn’t…I’m almost divorced…wait.” His lame explanations drop off to silence as he realizes that she is gone.” (Excerpt from Tailgunner on a Barstool© Michael D. LeFevre)
I used this scene in a story as a tension break in an intense scene between the main characters. It allowed them to have a breather from the discussion they were having. Situations like this play out every day, in every place. They are fair game to a writer like you.
What else should you write about? How about personal events? Have you ever had a broken heart? Broken one? What I am trying to say here: if you write about the things you know, you likely know more than you think you do.
How do you write about the things you don’t know? Well, that is where the fun parts of a writing life begin. You have to learn about them. Research is the mainstay of a successful book. If you are writing a story of medieval warfare, shouldn’t you learn how knights fought on the battlefield? How they used sword, lance, shield, axe, or lance? How heavy is chain mail armor? Can you run in full plate armor? How do you mount a horse in armor? There are so many skills you should have at least a passing knowledge of when you write stories that are out of your life experience. Tom Clancy had to learn about submarines, undersea warfare, Soviet military practices, foreign policy, spy-craft, etc. when writing “The Hunt for Red October”.
A good practice exercise for any type of writing is to describe your surroundings. If you are constructing a world for your latest YA Fantasy novel or a modern ghost story starring Ichabod Crane, you will have to construct a world for your story to exist in. Practice by describing what’s around you, progress onto the fantasy. Tell your reader how the grass grows, the trees leaf, and which way the wind blows in the evening. Descriptions like these will make your story richer and more real for your audience.
Describe your characters in your research notes, include a picture of someone that looks like the person you have in mind. You can find pictures of actors, models, or friends and relatives who will flesh out these characters in your mind allowing you to write them as realistic individuals who act and speak in a believable way.
You should be writing practice dialogue. Nothing is more distracting than formulaic or stilted dialogue. You should be able to hear the characters voice as you read the dialogue aloud. Remember their voice; Sir Galahad won’t be rapping and cowboys won’t be swearing in mixed company. They just don’t, unless they are modern wannabe’s who have never learned the Cowboy Code.
Above all, you should be writing everyday. Why you write, how you write, and what you write are for you to determine. I can tell you how easy it is to write about people in the mall, or learn to write medieval fight scenes, but it really is up to you. Do you really want to be an Everyday Author? Is it your dream to be a full-time writer, quit your day-job, create the Great American Novel?
Then, write, my friend–write all of the time. Write what you know; write what you don’t know. Write from your heart. But, by all means, write.