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!

Un-sappy Romance

On March 24, 2010, Marzo wrote, I’ve always wanted to try incorporating romance into my stories, but I’ve never really known how to write a romance well without it seeming, I don’t know, too sappy?  I don’t know if you’ve answered this in a different post, but do you have some tips for writing romance?
I’ve never written a book that was only a romance.  Most of mine are fantasy adventures with romance as one of the plot threads.

There must be many approaches to love and romance, and I hope other writers reading the blog will post theirs.

Even if you’ve never fallen in romantic love in real life, I’d guess you’ve fallen in like and in other sorts of love many times – with a new friend, a pet, a person you’ve known forever but have just come to appreciate.  How does it happen?  How did it happen to you?

Often it’s an accretion (if you don’t know the word, look it up!) of incidents and character traits that produces like and love.  Somebody says something that expresses exactly how you feel but have never been able to put into words, and you feel a deep connection.  This may be trite:  a smile that lights up a face can flip my heart.  Humor, as long as it’s not at someone’s expense, draws me in.  Maybe the smile is a tad sappy if all there is is a smile, but along with other details, the sappiness fades to unimportance.

Details count in writing love as in writing everything else.  The reader needs to know exactly what the heroine said that flew straight into the hero’s soul.  And the reader needs to be told enough about the hero to understand why he felt so touched.  For example, my late and much missed friend Nedda often told stories on herself and laughed uproariously.  I adored the stories and the loud belly laugh, but someone else might have been embarrassed by one or both.

When I want people to fall in love I think of them as jigsaw-puzzle pieces that need to fit together.  This bit of him has to satisfy that place in her that’s been starved, and vice versa.  Maybe I see it this way because of my parents, who remained in love for forty-nine years until my father’s death.  My mother finished college (at the age of sixteen); he didn’t complete high school.  He loved having a brilliant wife.  My father was smart, too, but very modest.  My mother loved my father’s innocence and sweetness.  She could be a wee bit tart.  He loved her complexity.  They argued sometimes, but fundamentally they filled the aspects of each other that needed filling.

So think about what your characters need and even crave.  In my Princess Tale, Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep, I echo my parents’ relationship.  Princess Sonora is the smartest person on earth by a factor of ten.  She’s eager to share her knowledge, but no one wants to listen.  Prince Christopher is curious about everything, and people tire of his endless questions.  They are made for each other.  In another Princess Tale, The Fairy’s Return, Robin makes up jokes for which he is scorned by his father and brothers.  Princess Lark thinks his jokes are hysterical.  Everyone treats her with kid gloves, which makes her feel stifled, but Robin doesn’t.  They are also primed for love.

Turning to pets:  Any domestic animal needs care and calls on us for protection.  Protectiveness is part of love, in my opinion, and a mutual part, too.  The boy isn’t the sole protector.  He’s watching out for her, and she’s got his back as well.  In Ella Enchanted, for example, Char arrives in time to keep Ella from being eaten, but she saves him and his knights by making the ogres docile.  A common enemy can help bring your characters together.

Pets again:  Puppies misbehave.  Our Baxter is nine, and he still misbehaves.  Animals can’t hide their feelings.  We know when they’re happy, frightened, stubborn, jealous.  We see them at their worst and love them anyway.  They’re naked literally (unless decked out in a vest or party hat) and figuratively.  Of course, they have no choice, but their freedom makes us free.  We tell our pets our secrets and let them see us cry and pound the pillow.  This kind of intimacy and acceptance is part of love.  In my novel, Fairest, Ijori is aware of Aza’s self-loathing and loves her anyway, and she forgives him and loves him even after he lets himself be convinced that she might be part ogre.  King Oscaro loves Queen Ivi, who is riddled with faults.  When we show characters fall in love despite their frailties, we create depth and move light years away from sappiness.

Another love and like-maker is admiration.  I usually – not always – respond in kind to being highly regarded.  I think better of the person who thinks well of me, and so can characters.  Being loved can be a turn-on.  In Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland’s admiration sparks Henry Tilney’s love for her.

Fun can lead to love.  For this post, I looked at romantic moments in some of my books.  The heroes and heroines are having a terrific time together.  They thrive on being together.  Mutual admiration ricochets back and forth, and each feels at his and her best, wittiest, most interesting, handsomest-prettiest, most awake.

Underlying everything is the physical side of romance, the chemistry.  You can be subtle with this, too.  There is the heightened sense of being alive, which readers will recognize.  Pleasure in one another’s company has a physical aspect.  The two can simply stand near each other and feel the air shimmer between them.  Their eyes can meet.  Eye contact is powerful, can be hostile, can be romantic, especially if the gaze is soft.  In a romantic moment one character can notice his breathing become shallow, another can feel warm in a chilly room.  One or both can blush.  I just googled “signs of romantic attraction” and read that hair touching, licking lips (one’s own), dropping the gaze and then looking back, leaning toward the other person – all can be indicators that an author can use.

And you can make up your own.  For example, suppose Maryanne has a scar next to her right eye.  It’s tiny, but it embarrasses her.  When she’s attracted to a boy, she puts her hand on the spot to cover it.  Then she thinks that may look silly, so she takes her hand away and extends her face a little.  You, the writer, put her through this quick sequence a couple of times at a party to introduce it.  (You don’t want to overdo.)  Then, two days later, she sits next to a particular boy at a school play and does it.  The reader understands instantly what’s going on.

Or Jeff becomes clumsy in the presence of someone who interests him.  Stuart pulls his shoulders back and widens his stance.  Sharyn rises on tiptoe.

I heart making people fall in love!

Here are some prompts:

•    Working from the fairytale “Beauty and the Beast,” write an early scene between the two.  The Beast, although severely handicapped, wants to win Beauty over.  What does he do?  Contrive the scene so that he has at least a little success.

•    One half of a romantic relationship has hurt the feelings of the other.  Show the offender winning back the affections of his beloved.

•    It is the night of July 4th.  The graduating seniors of the town high school have collected to watch the fireworks.  Penny and Nick flirted for the last four years, but nothing came of it.  The next morning Penny will leave for an out-of-town summer with relatives, and in the fall she goes to a distant college.  She wants Nick to remember her forever as his lost opportunity.  (Maybe she’s a little annoyed at him for never making a move.)  What does she do?  Write the scene.  She may succeed or not.  Go with what happens.

Have fun and save what you write!