Writing Is A Bad Habit: Living A Little! a.k.a. Writing Research and Life Experience

As you may have seen from my Monday Musings, this week is supposedly a vacation week for me, so today’s Writing Is A Bad Habit might seem short.  Or perhaps not, because I can get rambling once I get started!  Regardless, today’s topic is research and life experience in terms of writing.  Even if you are a genre author writing about completely fantasy worlds and events, there’s still something to be said for the importance of both proper research and bringing life experiences into your narrative.

The research angle should be obvious.  The majority of fantasy and science-fiction concepts still stem from either our past or are extensions of our present.  Especially any book that still touches on the human experience in any fashion can benefit from research.  Humans work, think, and feel in a certain way, and any author can benefit from a deeper understanding of those things.  Research becomes even more crucial for any historical or contemporary fiction.  Whatever you think you know about your realistic setting, there are those who know more and the more knowledge you have, the more nuanced your writing will become.

Life experience also should speak for itself.  It’s always easier to write about what you have lived through and every author, consciously or not, invests part of themselves into their works.  However, the simplest and most pervasive element of life experience is one that is often discounted, and that is simply interacting with a variety of people from a variety of cultures.  How better to be able to write a variety of characters and understand their feelings, thoughts, and motivations than dipping your toe into the river of humanity that is all around us?  It’s even easier these days with the internet and the Information Age.  This goes beyond just reading about people and cultures.  Now we can interact with them without even leaving our computer desks.

Now, there is one ever-present pitfall when it comes to both research and experience: the desire to over-inform your readers.  When you gain knowledge, there is an instinct to want to share it.  Share ALL of it, regardless of the actual needs of the story.  Always be on your guard against info dumps and boring the reader with too much information.  Use your research and experiences to add flavor and realism to your writing, just be ready to cut back when you need to.

Knowledge and information, when applied to writing, is like any spice in a chef’s spice rack.  You need to use just the right amount.  Too much makes the reader feel overwhelmed and too little leaves him/her lost.

What are your thoughts about research, life experiences, and their application to writing?  Let me know in the comments below!  Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!

Looking at Character: Tackling Dark Matters

Tragedy and hardship are often important ingredients in the brewing of drama, conflict, and characterization.  Sometimes, it’s caused by the nature of the story’s conflict.  Sometimes, it’s an element of a character’s backstory that is revisited during their character arc.   Even in a genre or story where such things aren’t front and center, few if any people (and that means characters) go through life without experienced some kind of personality-affecting trauma, even if it’s a small and relatively inconsequential affair.

Obviously, then, we writers should learn and understand how to tackle such topics.  There are a lot of dark events that can shadow a person’s life: the deaths of loved ones, chronic illness, natural disasters, warfare, slavery, serious injury, sexual crimes, and so on.  When we introduce such things into our stories, it becomes imperative that we not only handle these things in a realistic fashion, but also in one that shows a social conscience towards readers who may have dealt with these same issues.

That isn’t to suggest that these subjects shouldn’t be tackled or that they should be glossed over to prevent triggering old wounds.  What I mean to suggest is that tragedies and horrors that crossover into the real world need to be handled with all due respect and even then with caution.  In fact, glossing over a traumatic incident in your works is probably more insulting than harming to your potential readers.  It suggests that you believe such a horrible thing should simply be pushed away and not properly explored and, be inference, that the pain of the readers who have suffered from that thing should likewise be glossed over.

Don’t even include trauma if you don’t want to explore it and treat it properly.  Don’t throw in extraneous traumatic events to a character’s backstory and never explore the meanings and repercussions of those traumas.  Giving a character a tragic history to simply drum up reader sympathy without dealing with it is a poor poor choice and will, again, insult more readers than it will possibly endear.

In the end, when you consider including such dark matters into your plots and characters, always remember that we have a social responsibility as writers and creators of media.  What we do influences others.  Always keep that in mind and remember, always do your research!