I’ve probably covered this topic in a blog before but it’s nice sometimes to go over ideas again in more detail, or after you’ve had a chance to grow a bit.
People who read Breathe or GBM Chapter 12 have reached out to me and asked me if I’ve experienced the events I write about. Maybe because some situations are so hyperspecific, maybe because the emotional moments were unnecessarily biting. Is my work personal? After all, we as humans write about what we know. If Aaron and Molly have a deep conversation that impacts you, or the events in Breathe make you feel subconsciously like holding your breath (hey look, the reason I called it Breathe, it wasn’t just because I repeated the word over and over) it makes sense to go, “Huh, I bet Bashful Scribe went through that exact situation.”
Even though I have said before that Breathe was loosely based on events that happened to me, the events in Breathe didn’t. For a guy that writes a lot about cheating, I have actually never cheated on a partner. (Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been a jerk to romantic/sexual partners as we all have at some time or another, I’m not trying to claim I’m an angel. I’m merely saying cheating is something I haven’t done.) I’ve never been in the exact situation that Aaron has. Or Molly. Or Chris. In terms of exact situations, nothing I’ve written has directly happened to me.
This doesn’t mean I haven’t experienced the themes of what is going on. In writing, we start from themes. We take the themes from events we’ve experienced, and we do away with the original events. Then we fit the themes into a scenario for our protagonist, and as their situation gets more and more specific, it gets more and more dissimilar to our original experiences. Thus the paradox of “it never happened to me and yet I know exactly how they feel” is born. I’ve been cheated on before, so I’ve written about cheating. I’ve fallen so in love with a stranger that I began to want to research them, so I wrote Panopticon. I have been manipulated in the recent past, and used that theme to write Breathe. I’ve been in complicated romantic situations and been in a love-hate situation before, as well as seeing them unfold with others. I’m able to write about sloppy love, hesitant lust, and teen angst, simply because I… was a teenager, and enjoy putting my own experiences into words. It’s just also fun to pretend and assume my experiences are different enough that I’m not just writing a diary, I’m making an alternate-universe version of myself and discovering how they’d react to certain things. And the more I write the character of Molly or Adam or Phil or whoever, the farther removed they become from me, and yet because I was with them the whole time, I can still write down their reactions as if that were me.
In writing, that’s your bread and butter. The characters are you. You’ve experienced everything they have, but just in different ways. Even in the rare instance you come across something they’ve experienced but you never have, as long as you’re deep enough in writing, you’ll have a gut instinct of knowing exactly how they react. Follow that instinct. That’s the character merging their mind with yours, letting you know how they reacted, and it’s the greatest gift you can give to yourself as a writer.
As long as you open your mind enough to different perspectives, an endless amount of things can happen to you, just maybe not in ‘you’ form, if that makes any sense. So, again, no. I have experienced very little of what the characters have, physically. Emotionally, I’ve experienced it all, and I experience it all over again when I write about it. Maybe bearing that in mind, I should stop writing so much sad shit. That’s certainly food for thought… we’ll see. For now, I’ll talk to you all again next week.