Updated: Nov 15, 2019
Podcast Episode Link: Click here.
Podcast Transcript: Hi, genuine writers! This is Innovative Editing’s Jeannette DiLouie welcoming you to episode #41 of The Genuine Writer Podcast. We keep things short, sweet and to the point here so that you can learn what you need to learn and get back to writing already.
Today’s episode – which discusses realistic writing – is sponsored by Create Compelling Characters: How to Make Your Heroes, Villains, (and All the Rest) Stand Out! For the most part – there are some exceptions, I’ll admit – but for the most part, you have to be running with at least a few strong doses of reality in order to create strong characters. You’ve got to know what makes us humans tick, even if the personalities you’re portraying in your story are only humanoid, not human at all.
That’s why I’m highly recommending that you download the dirt-cheap, really quick read that is Create Compelling Characters. It packs a lot in its few pages, and you and your readers might be pleasantly surprised at how much stronger your writing is after you take it in.
The link, as always, is right in the description section.
Admittedly, we’re not just going to be talking about making our characters realistic in this little series we’re starting up now. We’re going the full enchilada since realistic characters enhance realistic dialogue that enhances realistic settings that enhances at least somewhat realistic plots. If you want to make your overall creative writing more realistic, there are a number of options at your disposal. And it starts with noticing the realism all around you.
While there are many areas where creative writing differs from reality – usually in subtle ways, but sometimes quite drastically – stories are supposed to have a believable feel. They’re meant for readers to immerse themselves in, and it’s kinda hard to get immersed when the elements being read don’t make sense.
Creative writing should never make someone go, “Yeah, like that would happen” or “She wouldn’t do that” or “Really? I don’t think so.” To avoid such capital writing crimes, notice what actually does happen, what “she” (or he) would do, and what otherwise really goes on in life. Your life included.
Truth is, there are tons and tons and tons of everyday experiences you can choose from to throw into your creative writing, from stubbed toes to a random stranger’s smile in the grocery store to the taste of Kombucha. Which is expensive stuff! I’m so happy I’m not addicted to it anymore.
Believe it or not though, even that observation right there can nudge creative writing in a realistic direction. It’s not like you have to pepper every page with random details about Kombucha, but consider this story snippet:
Bleary eyed, Nasir opened up the fridge to reveal last night’s takeout, a carton of eggs, some cheddar cheese and three bottles of Kombucha. Always Kombucha. Even two years after Fari’s death, he still couldn’t stop buying her stupid favorite drink.
Some people had a drug problem that ate away their finances. He had fermented tea.
That sounds like real life right there: the habit of hanging onto something as a reminder of someone lost.
Or, far less depressingly, consider my house – which, like most western-world homes, has a bathroom. And in this bathroom is a bathtub from which hangs a shower curtain. A two-piece shower curtain, to be precise, with an idyllic beach scene that dangles down the outside of the tub and a clear sheet that hangs inside. That clear sheet just so happens to have three little black discs sown into its hem to keep it weighted. One on the right side. One on the left. One in the middle. Nothing ominous about that whatsoever.
However, the one on the left takes a terrifying turn about three times a year for me. Because I have really bad vision. And short curly hair.
Let me explain.
In order to have any prayer of taming my locks in the morning, I have to wet them. And since I don’t take an actual shower every day (who has time for that?), I just stand over the tub and use the detachable shower head to drench my hair. This means I’m staring right down at the inside shower curtain pushed off to the side.
In and of itself, this wouldn’t be a panic-attack-inducing problem. But I also have to wear contacts because my natural eyesight is atrocious. And I like to put my contacts in after I wet and scrunch my hair with gel. So I’m therefore quite blurry-eyed as I’m staring right down at the inside shower curtain pushed off to the side.
Inevitably, as I’m straightening up to grab my hair towel, I’ll brush against said shower curtain, making it move, including those little black discs sown into the hem. Which, given the right angle, can look just like big black spiders when you have terrible vision and no contacts in. I swear, I’ve nearly had a heart attack trying to get away from those alleged arachnids. It’s quite pathetic, particularly when it’s happened more than once.
In the moment, it’s not a fun experience. But written out right, it could make a great scene in a chicklit book or to start out a character’s bad day in many other genres. While almost nobody else is going to be able to exactly empathize with this non-spider experience since almost nobody else is so pathetic as to have it, it’s still believable. Why? Because everyone else has had moments of sheer stupidity and mistaken identity.
So here’s a little writing assignment for you: Take just one hour and pay attention to what you do and how you do it. Then see if you can fit any of that real life into your creative writing to make it more realistic.
With that said, don’t assume that all reality will make your creative writing more realistic. Because, oddly enough, it doesn’t always. I know I’ve covered this in my non-podcast posts before, but it’s worth repeating on as many platforms as possible to drive it into as many creative writing brains as possible: Caricatures do happen in reality. But they don’t typically work in fiction.
For the record, a caricature is a depiction of someone or something that overaccentuates their attributes – oftentimes flaws – to the point of being ridiculous. It’s a word that’s most often associated with artistic renderings, where someone will sit down to be sketched cartoon-style. If the person has a big nose, the artist will give him an even bigger nose. If the person has a ridiculous amount of mascara on, the artist will give her lashes that extend out to insane proportions.
When we’re talking about caricatures outside of art, however, we’re normally talking about someone who displays negative personality features or embodies stereotypes to unrealistic degrees. While I can think of a few different examples of individuals who were too-ridiculous-for-words, the best one I can refer to is Gary, a former colleague of mine who was desperate for attention.
Gary took millennialism to an extreme that was downright mindboggling. Not only would he pass off every assignment he could to anyone he could, then turn around and take credit for the finished results, but he gossiped like the worst kind of mean girl and constantly interrupted the editorial team’s shared workspace to spout his political opinion.
Yet, let’s face it, none of that behavior in and of itself is unrealistic, ridiculous though it was. What pushes Gary across the line into sheer inanity was his habit of bringing his guitar into the editorial team’s shared workspace. To play for us. Randomly. During work hours. And he wasn’t even good at it.
If I wanted to realistically describe Gary’s guitar playing in creative writing, it would fall flat. Readers wouldn’t buy it for an instant because of how nonsensical this childish demand for attention came across – no matter how it really happened. Maybe it could work in chicklit because of chicklit’s lighter, fluffier tones, but that’s it.
Incidentally, this brings up another good point. As we discussed in last Wednesday’s blog post, different realities translate better into certain genres than others. Keep that in mind while you’re writing – and even more so when you’re editing – always asking yourself, “Does this draw readers further into my story’s reality or nudge them out?” With that mentality firmly in place, you’ll automatically make your creative writing more realistic and therefore more enjoyable.
That’s it for this week. Thanks for tuning into The Genuine Writer Podcast. I plan on discussing this at least next week too. So make sure to tune in! In the meantime, have a wonderful week, happy writing and I’ll catch you all later.