Updated: Nov 22, 2019
Podcast Episode Link: Click here.
Podcast Episode Transcript: Hi, genuine writers! This is Innovative Editing’s Jeannette DiLouie welcoming you to episode #42 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 once again by Create Compelling Characters: How to Make Your Heroes, Villains, (and All the Rest) Stand Out! Because, once again, you have to be running with at least a few strong doses of reality in order to create strong characters. Reading this e-booklet – which, incidentally, is also short and sweet – is a great way to really get your creative writing head into the game.
We already began discussing this last week. But here’s one tip you may find inside those pages, whether directly or indirectly: If you really want to make your creative writing more realistic, ask lots of questions. Lots and lots and lots of them. Ask for input before you start writing. While you’re writing. And after you’ve moved onto your editing rounds. Essentially, when in doubt, ask.
For instance, let’s say your character ends up at Arcadia National Park in Maine, but you’ve never been there before. However, you have a colleague over in HR who has. In that case, ask.
Or you’re writing about a preacher’s wife, but you’ve never been a preacher’s wife before. In that case, if you go to a church with a married male pastor, ask to take his wife out for coffee sometime. Otherwise, look up churches around you and see if any of those pastors’ wives would be interested in sitting down with you. You might want to give them assurances of anonymity while you’re at it.
Speaking of such, there’s more than one way to ask a question of our fellow human beings. While it most certainly can be in person, over the phone or via email – where you’re directing a specific question at a specific person – there are plenty of sneakier ways to “ask” as well. In writing circles, we don’t like to say “eavesdropping.” That’s such a negative and invasive-sounding word. We much prefer the term “people watching.”
And, oh my word, but can people watching be enlightening. Not to mention fun. For instance, pretend you want to know what a typical sales-oriented meeting might look like. Your main character is trying to hire a marketer for her start-up business, and you’re not sure how her interaction might realistically go. In that case, Panera’s your place to be. Go in the morning or mid-day during the week, pick a person in a nice outfit to sit next to, and then proceed to pretend to not listen to them once their sales mark arrives.
If it’s college students you need to observe, check out a college or university cafeteria. And so on. Just identify where your kind of character can best be observed and then see if you can share the same basic space. In fact, feel free to go places in general to observe others. Bring your laptop with you or a notebook, sit back, and just take in the humanity.
You can also ask for input online. Sites like Quora can be awesome resources for writers, allowing them to ask any question about any kind of profession or person – with a decent chance of getting a worthwhile reply while they’re at it.
If that doesn’t work though, Google and Bing can obviously answer a number of questions, either through simple searches or more detailed investigations. And don’t be shy about typing out your question in multiple ways and clicking on multiple results. Understand that, no matter what the subject matter you’re writing about might be, it’s never going to be realistic unless you do some serious asking from more than one angle.
Now, admittedly, you don’t have to share absolutely every single detail you find. Just as long as you understand your characters and the environments they’re interacting with, you should be on the right road. So if you have a baker for a protagonist, and he’s responding to an upset customer who thinks the bread she bought last week went moldy way too fast, understanding what’s motivating both of them helps you know how to make their dialogue more realistic.
Maybe she’s having a bad day herself and is taking it out on him. Perhaps she just found out that her husband lost his job. Plus, her busybody cousin called that morning and she ended up crying on him, which means the rest of the family is going to hear all about how she’s falling apart. None of that needs to be stated in the story, particularly if she’s a tertiary character (i.e., an extra). But it can still determine how long she rants about the moldy bread and what arguments she makes, such as:
“I just don’t understand how this could have happened.” – because she doesn’t understand how her husband lost his job.
“This is absolutely unacceptable. And you call yourself a professional!” – because that’s along the lines of what she’d like to say to her cousin.
“This is not my fault.” – because she’s already feeling like her family is judging her for her now significantly reduced income.
He, meanwhile, might be trying to sound and look professional for professionalism’s sake but also to avoid making an utter scene in front of the other customers in the bakery, which would have him responding to her like this:
“Well, it’s been an unusually humid summer. Once additional moisture gets into the bread, it’s just not going to last long.”
“I stand by my bread, ma’am, but I’m very sorry you’re so upset. How about I give you a loaf on the house.”
“I wasn’t trying to say it was your fault. But how about that free loaf? Or I can give you a refund if you’d prefer.”
Essentially, when you know what your character wants – such as a life that doesn’t feel like it’s falling apart or a crazy customer to just go away already before she makes other customers run away and never come back – it’s easier to keep them sounding, looking and acting in a manner that makes sense.
For the record, this applies just as easily to villains. Are they behaving the way they do because they just enjoy hurting people – which is possible, but rare, for the record – because they’re desperate to establish themselves worthy of respect, or because they were spoiled rotten as children? Each of those reasons will lead to different behavior or different ways of expressing that behavior.
When everything is said and done, you want to know your characters like you know yourself. Once you do, your readers should be able to catch on as well.
Last but not least, when it comes to how to make your creative writing more realistic, there’s a whole ton to be said on the subject. But a lot of it is crazy nuanced. So it’s much easier to show it than to tell it. As such, I’d love to show it. Believe me. Except that there’s one other issue at stake. And here it is…
There are countless cases of crazy nuanced mistakes we creative writers can and do make since there are countless crazy nuanced topics we can and do write about. Suppose you’re writing about a teacher. But what kind of teacher? Male or female? Newbie or nearing retirement? Public or private? After all, not every educator is alike. So what grade does this teacher teach? Is he or she jaded or enthusiastic? Creative or by-the-book? Every single one of those details makes a difference in how the teacher behaves, what he or she says, and how he or she says it.
Once the creative writer in question has established a fact about a character – or a setting, plot or dialogue rule – within the story, it’s pretty much set in stone: to be broken only with good reason and even better explanation.
That’s it for this week. Thanks for tuning into The Genuine Writer Podcast. I plan on discussing a whole lot of other fascinating topics as the rest of the year unwinds. Not next week, since we’re taking off for Thanksgiving. But stick around after that. We’ve got some good stuff coming up! In the meantime, happy writing and I’ll catch you all later.