Writers Bravely Go

On March 12, 2020, Kit Kat Kitty wrote, Does anyone have any advice on how to write about things you don’t know? I know as writers we’re always told to write what we know, but sometimes I wonder. If I were to try to write a story about two people falling in love, could I do it? I’ve never fallen in love, so does that mean I can’t write about that? (I’ve liked people a lot before, and I’ve always been loved by my friends and family and seen couples in love, so would that count?) If I haven’t experienced something (or at least something very close to it) can I still write about it? Should I? Or is it about relating things we have experienced to things we haven’t experienced?

I don’t worry so much about faeries or dragons or vampires, because those things aren’t real. But I do worry about emotions or experiences. Can I write about a character who’s going through trauma I’ve never had to deal with without getting it wrong or offending someone?

I’m just worried because that seems to be a mental block for me whenever I have an idea. I always tell myself if I haven’t experienced it (or something very close) I can’t write about it.

A few of you weighed in.

Melissa Mead: I’d say go ahead and try! Even if you get it wrong at first, you’ll get better with practice + experience.

future_famous_author: Speaking of love, I wrote a whole book about love and I’ve never been in love! The love was hardly a subplot, either, it was a huge part of the plot! And if all we did was write about things that we had experienced, don’t you think that our stories and books and poems and movies would all start to get boring? All you have to do is try and picture yourself in that character’s shoes, whether those shoes walk through hard times or good times, and whether or not those shoes would actually fit you. It can be hard sometimes for us writers to make things up- not just a character, but emotions and feelings. It definitely takes practice to conjure up emotions that you’ve never felt and somehow project them onto a page, but it almost has to happen. Female authors oftentimes write about male characters, and thoughts and feelings that they have that the female author has probably never had herself, and vice versa. And in a classic, Little Women, which has been made into tons and tons of movies, the main character falls in love and gets married, whereas the author, whom the character was based off of, never got married herself. And I’m sure that Gail has written emotions that she never actually experienced herself!

Christie V Powell: Humans are amazing. Our emotions don’t know the difference between real and imaginary–that’s why stories exist. Have you read books or seen movies where you felt the connection between two characters? Then, to your brain, you have experienced it.

If it’s a specific trauma that worries you, asking someone you trust who has gone through it is always a good move. If meeting in person doesn’t work, try social media, or even reading a memoir or article they’ve written.

My goodness! It’s almost a whole year since you, Kit Kat Kitty, asked your question, and you may have fallen in love three or more times since then!

future famous author, you’re right. I have never looked at someone’s earlobe and wanted to eat it! More seriously, I haven’t been in the terrible circumstances I thrust my characters into. I don’t know how I’d react.

And I’m with Christie V Powell that humans are amazing in our willingness to merge with imaginary beings of all sorts. And writers are an amazing-plus subset of humanity, gifted with the power to create the characters that readers can inhabit.

On a whim, I just googled “How does it feel to fall in love?” and many articles and entries popped up, which you and other writers may find helpful. (I haven’t clicked on them.)

I’m revising my Trojan War book for my editor, which means that the heaviest lifting is done and I’m thinking about my next project, which will probably be a take on another fairy tale. In the way I’m approaching this fairy tale, one of the main characters is super selfish, bordering, in my opinion, on narcissism. I don’t think I’m much of a narcissist myself, and, luckily, I haven’t known anyone else I’d peg that way. But that isn’t a reason not to write this character!

So I did a lot of googling on narcissism, especially on how to stop being narcissistic, which seems to be very difficult. Fascinating! I don’t know how much I’ll use, but what I read gave me a better idea about how to approach the character and how to move him through my plot.

I research constantly, even for fantasy. I’ve fallen in love, but I may go back and read my Google entries on the topic. Research helps me feel grounded and stokes my imagination because the real world is full of surprises. The way I fall in love is probably different from the way other people do, and my characters all have their own ways.

As Christie V Powell suggests, we can ask real people about what falling in love was like for them. We can ask people who seem to be happy together and (tactfully) people who seem anything but. How did it start? Slow or fast? What did they think and feel? What was the physical reaction? Chills? Heat? Trembling? Tingling? I bet everyone will have a different story.

Let’s linger on that. Won’t a shy person and an exuberant person fall in love differently? Writers on the blog often talk about backstory. Won’t people’s backstories affect how they fall in love? We can’t have all the experiences our characters have. We have to make it up. No other option.

And, just saying, if my characters could come to life, I’m certain they’d tell me I got things wrong. The nice ones would thank me for trying. I don’t know what the villains would do!

I agree with Kit Kat Kitty that we expand from what we do know to what we don’t. We know about forming friendships, about liking and even loving friends, about being loved. I’ve never been hungry for an earlobe, but when I’m ravenous, the sight of a raw chicken about to go into the oven can be almost unbearable.

As for offending people, I’d say no one has the right to be offended. You’re not writing about them. They’re not experts in how your characters fall in love! You and your characters are the only experts.

Here are four prompts:

• A thousand-year-old elf falls in love with a nine-hundred-year-old dragon. Write their meeting and how the love develops.

• The roots of two trees come together deliberately in an embrace. Write how that happens.

• A shy person and an exuberant person do fall in love. Write their first meeting. Continue with the progression of their romance.

• After Snow White wakes up, she goes with the prince to his castle where they get married though they don’t know each other at all. Using the original Grimm story, write your version and make the romance real. Remember that she has quite a backstory.

Have fun, and save what you write!

  1. Great post! It’s so true that different people and characters react differently; especially with falling in love! I wrote a story that has three parts. Three different stories with different characters that take place in different time periods. There is a bit of romantic love in each of them- although I myself have never fallen in love I have read enough books, seen enough movies and observed enough people to write about it! One character is only fourteen and is completely oblivious to her friends love although he assumes it’s obvious. They never really “fall” per- say, they just love. Another couple is old and has been married for many years, their love is the tender type that gets better in time. And the third is two teenagers- I wrote a segment in the story about how my MC Lilja feels when Otto tells her he loves her here it is- “A wave of emotions flew through me. I loved him too! No, I didn’t, I was a Nazi that is not allowed. Nein. That’s not true I am no Nazi. Joy, oh joy! But no, he can’t, how? I must have misheard.
    I saw a million colors and was hot and cold at the same time, I was swept away into what I thought was heaven. Then Otto touched my shoulder and brought me back to Earth. I looked into his dark eyes and simply smiled. I couldn’t say anything.” In my story one of my MC’s is a slave and I was afraid of offending- but then I realized that anyone who would be offended has no right to be offended because my character overcomes that and becomes free!

  2. FantasyFan101 says:

    That’s pretty good.
    Anyway I’ve little experience in writing romance, and like many others, haven’t ever been in a romance. In fact, I won’t for many years. But I want to mix some in with my story, though not a lot. I feel that Magical Adventure + Some Romance = Perfect Story. This’ll be really helpful in years to come

  3. Definitely- this whole blog is such a useful tool and opens my mind to new possibilities in writing! Thank you Gail and everyone else who gives awesome advice!

  4. I recently finished the first draft of a short novel. And I’m in the dreaded swamp of revising.
    There’s an element in the novel which is basically useless. It’s the first thing to introduce the MC’s love interest to the MC, but I think I could rewrite it so that the love interest is introduced differently.
    Should I get rid of the element?
    And does anyone have any general tips on revising?

  5. FantasyFan101 says:

    My younger sister is passionate too!!! She begs to listen all the time. Oh and to revise… hmm, I’m actually not very good on this subject. I am, in fact, really bad. I agree, read it out loud. If you don’t like the way it is, save the bit you’re cutting somewhere else, and rewrite the whole scene. But I’m not very practiced, so my advice isn’t very firm. Good luck!!

  6. FantasyFan101 says:

    Hey… Me again. I’m completing one of Gail’s character questionnaires, and I’m having trouble find faults and good points that suit my character. Of course I want her to have faults, because I feel it makes a well rounded character, but none I can think of fit. Also, my friend is writing the story with me. We have our questionnaires on the same document, and I’m afraid to take something that builds up Sade or Terran (her assigned characters). My character also has a name that doesn’t suit her. I want to find a special aspect of her that I can use for her name. So far nothing. Here’s some of her info, to help any answers.

    Name: Alaia
    Kind of being: Human
    Age: 13
    Sex: female
    Appearance: Raven hair, bronzed skin from being in the sun, fiery green eyes, dark lips
    Way of speaking/mannerisms: Speaks with years of royal education and is very precise
    Physical characteristics (posture, gestures, attitude): Stands straight, tries to keep a calm, level smile at all times, and often keeps her hands folded in front of her.
    Items in his/her pockets, bag or other carriers: A white dragonscale pendant that her grandmother passed down to her mother. She never wears it, because her mother died, and it brings back painful memories
    Hobbies: Embroidery, caring for the magical creatures at the castle, (I have to think of more)
    Talents, abilities, or powers: The Element of Fire
    Relationships (how (s)he is w/ other people): Friendly, but a bit guarded. Tries not to let feelings of grief or anger show.
    Fears: Her father will hurt her loved ones and herself

    Hope this is enough. I still need to fill out “Faults” and “Good Points.” I’m not very practiced at making strong characters, and any help will be welcomed. (Maybe cherished is a better word)
    I hope you can help!!!

    • Let me think. If she’s guarded, maybe a fault could be not trusting people. She’s very precise, does it bother her when other people aren’t? From what you’ve put here, it seems like her biggest challenge is going to be learning how to trust other people.

      As far as good points go, she sounds like she’s compassionate, if she’s caring for animals and worried about people she loves getting hurt. She likes embroidery, so she’s probably creative. She sounds like she’s mature for her age, which could also be a good thing in some situations.

      I’m not sure what name would suit her. Maybe something that means ‘guardian’ or a name based off a green gemstone. Hope this was helpful!

    • From the comments about being very precise, refusing to wear the pendant, and trying to keep her feelings from showing, I would add another fear she might have: the fear of losing control, especially with fire magic. For faults, she might wall herself off from others, refuse to discuss painful memories, or show off her education, especially when she’s nervous. For good points, she might be cool under pressure, empathetic (in a non-magical sense), or determined to atone for her father’s actions. For more general advice, look at what you’ve already written about a character and see what naturally follows from those facts. But don’t be afraid to throw in something random for no real reason. Predictable characters are boring, and everyone has their quirks.

  7. Yaaay! I love coming up with names!
    So, her power is the element of fire. I basically googled “girls names meaning fire.” I really like Ember, Anala, and Enya, but those might not be right for you. Here’s the link:
    For character development, you said that she tries to keep a calm smile on and that she fears that her father will hurt people.
    Maybe she’s previously had trouble controlling her emotions, so she resorts to the smile to always keep control. Or maybe, since she’s guarded, her smile is her way of putting up a barrier between herself and other people, and that’s a hurdle to making connections.
    Hope that helps!

  8. Pleasure Writer says:

    I have a question about publishing. I doubt I’ll have a completed manuscript that I feel good about for a few more years, but if or when that time comes, how does one go about sending a manuscript to a publishing company?

    • Step one: research whether traditional or indie publishing is better for you.
      Step two: assuming that you want to go for a traditional publisher, research agents. You’ll need one.
      Step three: Learn how to write a really good query letter. Send copies to the agents you’ve chosen. Their websites will tell you what they want you to submit. They’ll probably ask for a first chapter and/or a synopsis of your book, not the whole thing.
      Step four: Be patient. Expect a lot of rejection before you reach success. It’ll probably take a lot of tries before an agent accepts you. I’m talking hundreds.

      That’s the basic process. You’ll want to do more research when you get closer.

      • If you choose indie…
        Step one: research whether traditional or indie publishing is better for you.
        Step two: research companies. I recommend KDP (amazon) or Draft2Digital. Be wary of any company that asks for money in advance.
        Step three: You’ll be in charge of either doing all the work, or hiring it out. You’ll need at least one editor, a book cover designer, and a marketing plan. Again, either hire someone to do these, or learn to do them yourself, if you can do them well.
        Step four: Learn marketing, and do it a lot (you’ll have to do this for a traditional book too, I understand).
        Step five: Be patient. Earning a lot of money right away is extremely rare. You’ll probably publish several books before you turn a profit.
        Step six: Always keep learning. Everything in this industry changes, often at a fast pace. The better you keep up with it, the more successful you’ll be.

    • Stories, novels, or both?
      The industry’s changing rapidly, but here’s some advice that should still be valid in a few years:

      Yog’s law: “Money flows TOWARD the writer.” Beware of publishers who ask for money. They’re supposed to pay YOU.

      Check out the publisher’s website and guidelines. Always follow the guidelines, even if they seem silly.
      If you can, read things by the publisher to get an idea of their tastes.

      Most book publishers only take agented manuscripts. Consider submitting to agents first.

      Expect to get rejections, and try not to take them personally (I’ve gotten 2 so far this week, and I’ll admit, one in particular really stung.). They just mean that one person didn’t want that particular story on that particular day. My friend David Finkle says “Rejections are trophies. They’re proof that you had the guts to try something.

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