Ah, the old “Write what you know”. It’s something I’ve been hearing all my life, something that’s a part of society as a general rule, or guideline. How can you possibly write something that you don’t know about? Well, for one, there is google, but let’s discuss the character portion of this so called ‘guideline’. It may be what stands between you and that Pulitzer Prize in your future.
It is important for every writer to connect with their main character on some kind of level. You have particular goals for your main character, either good or bad, and they are the same goals that push the plot forward and keep readers turning the pages. Connecting with your MC is also effective when deciding what happens next, what he or she is thinking, and especially dialogue. But there comes a point when connecting too much is a problem.
I know that you’re thinking: But, Kylie, I am my MC. I am the one who is writing him and shouldn’t we be similar since we are sharing the same brain space?
Well, yes. But, no.
Let us take a step back and look at some very successful books. I call them classics, and in my other post “The difference between a novel, bestseller, and a classic” I discuss the main points that a classic book contains. In that post I stress that there are strict places only for thought and muddling over the works of the world within a novel. What I have left out was the characteristics of the Main Character.
Let’s look at one of my personal favorites, The Great Gatsby. I’m sure that Scott Fitzgerald connected with Nick and Jay alike and that connection gave him the will to write. But our man Scott wasn’t solely like either one in his real life. I don’t think he lived any lifestyle remotely similar to that of Jimmy Gatz before of after the days of writing exercises in a notebook. You see, he didn’t have to live in a mansion with parties that consisted of flappers and pianists in order to write such an amazing book. He was separated from Gatsby enough so that he look at the character and write it from Nick’s perspective.
Still not believing me? Let us take a look at another famous novel called Catcher in the Rye. When Salinger was confronted by tons of angsty teens, I don’t think he was thinking anywhere along the lines of “Aww sweet, man. People who hate phonies just like me!” Infact, I know this for sure thanks to a documentary which is on Netflix called, not so surprisingly, “Salinger”. He has told people specifically “I am a fiction writer” and I believe that he did so well as a fiction writer because he isn’t a duplicate of Holden Caulfield. He was different, and allowed himself to separate from the character. Sure they had things in common, smoking, I believe is one of those things, and they are both male, so more connections can be made there. But he wasn’t exactly like his MC.
The Movie “The United States of Leland” Is a brilliant film, which is told a lot like a visual novel, but also focuses on writing as a major theme. Hotness of Ryan Gosling as a teen put aside, there was one quote I remember specifically and it pertains to this very blog post. Paraphrasing: “Let me guess. You’re writing your first novel, which doubles as a semi biographic, and are on the second chapter. Me.” Now, the part of the first novel doubling as a book about himself (The male writer and also inspiring teacher role) really made me smile. As said in another post, I really don’t like the debut novels and this is one exact reason for why.
Writers want to write what they know. They know a hell of a lot about themselves. So why not write that? Incorporate a ton of your own characteristics and beliefs into your protagonist so it will be easier to write. Sadly, easiest isn’t the most effective. So to wrap up this long post, I feel that it is very important for writers to write what they perhaps know, but not what they know about themselves. Explore your main character’s unique thoughts. Make your main character nothing like you, and be able to live as someone else for the duration of time it takes you to write your piece.
Image sources: Um… Google Images…
Keep on writing!