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!