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More specifically, outside of school and other works of fiction. I've heard that if you go out and live a little, that your story will thank you. However, I've never heard the consequences of refusing to go out and getting to know the world around you better outside of just reading about it. Since writing is a reflection of life, wouldn't your work suffer, especially if you made stuff up from your head? And isn't it better to just draw from real life itself rather than an another's work which is a interpretation of life itself?
If you're correct, then I am likely screwed.
You need life experiences in order to write well. You need to have connected with some people, made close friends. Shared some laughs. Shed some tears. You'll need to have cheated death, and lose some loved ones. You need to have burned some bridges and done some pretty stupid mistakes. You need to see for yourself how people's life experiences are firsthand, and then put them in writing, making your own mark on it and shape it into your needs, if you want your writing to connect with people, for it to be taken seriously. For you and your writing to be as expansive and as connectable as possible.
I say so because all fiction is, is an interpretation of real life, not a complete reflection. In fiction, a writer picks and chooses what's entertaining from what's boring, what'll serve the story from what'll get one stuck in a rut. What's engaging from what'll just embarrass the writer. You can't share everything you experience in life.
But if all you do is write from what you read about and read from, once again, you're just interpreting, and some very important things will get lost in translation. An interpretation of an interpretation of an interpretation. Soon, all is refined, but it's all very narrow.
edited 28th Aug '11 2:29:49 PM by Schitzo
I've heard it said that your mind can't create anything if nothing goes in it. If all you do is read other people's fictions or non-fictions, than that's all you could ever write about. You might still be able to write, and it might turn out to be good, but the problem is that it's all inspired from other people's works, which could make it feel artificial and cliche. But by going out and living life, you have some real life experiences that you can draw inspiration from, and since everyone experiences real life in a unique way and experience different experiences from everyone else and views these experiences from different perspectives, that will allow the writer to create stories and characters that are truly unique, yet true to life. Real life is only one potential source of inspiration, although it can be the most valuable.
Taking the exact opposite view from Schitzo.
I write of things that not only do not exist, but cannot exist; of things that are not now and will never be. No experience of real life can truly teach that; no research illuminate the details of it.
But in a more practical fashion, it is an established and indisputable fact that one need not experience something to describe it. Doctors need not catch a disease to diagnose it. Those without emotion are often the best able to simulate it and predict it, which is why for a long time a diagnosis of psychopathy had a symptom for highly charismatic upon casual inspection.
Writing, as a craft, is about the description of actions and the prediction of consequences. These are skills that can be developed by study or by experience. Neither is absolutely necessary.
Maybe neither is completely necessary, but I would argue that you need some of both to make your writing whole.
Very much true.
edited 28th Aug '11 3:35:50 PM by Schitzo
The real question is what your readers will see in your work. If you don't spend much time with other people, you will not get an adequate picture of human nature, and your characters will not be adequately human. They will not ring true for readers who do know human nature. A story is about people driven into conflicts and about how they resolve those conflicts. Where they live and what they do is almost irrelevant.
Most Readers Are Human
Well, fuck me, that's not a trope?
edited 28th Aug '11 3:40:16 PM by Schitzo
Eh, I'll question that. Surely your story has conscious entities that the reader is supposed to sympathize with (or hate, if that is the case)? If you don't have experience working with other conscious entities I think that would be hard to reproduce. If a psychopath is completely isolated from people with emotions, would they successfully imitate those emotions on their own?
@Betsy: But how many of us do you suppose have actually witnessed a death, much less attempted to or actually killed someone?
We remember Sherlock Holmes; but Conan Doyle was never a detective. (And may the Watsonians strike me dead for that.) Saving Private Ryan was real enough to actually be a problem for some people who were really there, but the production team had never done anything like those who were there for the real thing.
There are just too many things a writer will never experience, particularly in the writing of speculative fiction; this does not necessarily make their portrayals less accurate, however. Successful execution of writing and other mediums has too many factors to be wholly dependent on any one.
Merlo: actually, yes. One of the things about psychopaths is that many of them are shockingly good at imitating emotions they've never experienced, and hence superb manipulators.
But basically, look to any work of Speculative Fiction, and you will find it describing something that as far as we currently know is impossible. Certain genres emphasized building up these impossible worlds, describing them in rich, deep detail (most of the early cyberpunk comes to mind). Head over the Anime & Manga subforum and odds are good the top twenty threads more than half describe worlds revolving around something that hasn't ever happened and won't ever happen. (Evangelions? Nanoha-style mages? Anybody like the cast from One Piece?) These things that don't exist and won't exist have consequences, repercussions for their worlds, and they have to be studied and predicted rather than experienced.
Think of it like this. If you've never been outside, and you've never seen pictures of the outside, or you've never had the outside described to you, and you were asked to draw the outside, what would you do? Would you be able to imagine the bushes? Would the idea of clouds, or even the sky, occur to you? Wouldn't your vision of the outside just be the inside, but maybe a little bigger and with different colors?
Even if you had the outside described to you, would your picture of the outside still be accurate? You may know of bushes, but you wouldn't know their feel and texture. You may have a rough idea of clouds, but you'll never be able to capture their essence. You'd most likely just draw white ovals in the sky.
Even if you were shown pictures of the outside, you would not likely be able to draw anything but replications of what you see in the picture. You may be shown a picture of a bush, but you wouldn't know how the bush can move in the wind, or how the bush can look from different angles. If you saw a picture of a cloud, you would only know of one shape a cloud can take, and you would have no idea that they can take other shapes, and you wouldn't know how to draw them in other shapes while still making it look like a cloud.
By drawing from real world experiences, you can add an extra dimension to your writing. Since a lot of writing deals with emotions and human interactions, it's good to know what those emotions are and how humans can interact. Without having a real world basis of this basic human experiences, anything you write will be nothing but a shallow replication based on how you've heard others describe it to you. I've read stories where characters talked to each other, and it was very hard to believe that the author had any idea how people truly talked to each other, thus distancing me from the story.
When it comes to speculative fiction, you can be excused from not knowing a goddamn thing about guns or science or cars.
But you need to know people. You need to know how we live, how we react, how we play, how we mourn, how we deal with shit. You can make up that the sky is green or that gods are cyborgs or that magic is just a fancy-schmancy way of saying calculus. But you can't make up how people react.
Books are the most wonderful things in existence, but they can't give you the emotional knowledge that living life can.
To read is to know in your head; to live is to know in your bones.
edited 28th Aug '11 4:27:12 PM by Kraken
What you experience through reading is filtered through the experience and eyes and emotions of the writer. If you only write what you've read, you are simply running that already filtered experience through another filter. And if all you know is what someone else already filtered, you don't learn the parts that they didn't choose to include.
Doyle wasn't a detective, but he was experienced at seeing and understanding people. And that is why Sherlock Holmes works as a detective — because he does his detecting by understanding the people he deals with.
That assumes that all books, and all filters, are the same. This is manifestly untrue. Different stories and different authors filter different things.
It also assumes that your experience in reality is somehow not filtered by your own bias just like your writing, which is equally untrue.
It doesn't change the fact that everything you read has already been filtered at least once before you experienced it.
edited 28th Aug '11 5:12:23 PM by Madrugada
There are plenty of things I have difficulty writing due to my not having experience with them, either because I wasn't around them (how do the popular kids in school talk to each other at lunchtime?), or because my view is skewed (what does the world look like from the perspective of someone who automatically notices the things I tend to miss?) However, reading about a subject from a variety of sources has helped me get away with writing about things I've never personally experienced.
^ That's a good argument for reading more fiction, so you can see the errors that authors make due to their filters, and learn to reproduce those filters in your characters. A really skilled writer can show how two people see the same event in completely different ways. (The challenge is to avoid tipping your hand as to which one you think is right.)
edited 28th Aug '11 5:31:22 PM by feotakahari
Yes, you'll put filters in your writing.
But it'll be your filters. It'll be your preconceptions of the world. Not anyone else's. That's what makes it unique.
That's what makes great story-tellers be great story-tellers. Their filters were the barest and thinnest, which allowed audiences to feel closest to the story.
edited 28th Aug '11 5:37:23 PM by Kraken
You can only see the errors if you have the experience to see them. There's a reason there are so many "Hollywood X" tropes — writers write what other writers have written first.
^ I think we're talking about different things. It sounds like you're talking about stuff like The Coconut Effect. I'm talking about stuff like "I have difficulty keeping my sex drive in check, so of course all men must have trouble with that! If I write a story that portrays men as struggling not to commit rape, nobody will think I'm a twisted freak!" (I swear, that's not even the worst case I've seen of a writer assuming everyone's like him.)
I'm not saying that you shouldn't read extensively. Far from it.
What I am saying is that you should get the experience first. Then whatever you can't get, you read about.
Living is the priority.
Experiences do help your writing; they provide an immediate, intimate connection to the subject you're addressing. You don't need to experience everything in your story to write about it, obviously, but physically experiencing a variety of things introduces you to concepts you wouldn't have thought of or expected, and that can enrich your writing. Little convincing details sell your story, and you can apply them to fantastic situations to add realism. The animators of How To Train Your Dragon drew on their experience with their cats to create the movements of the dragon, using their life experience to create a fake animal.
That's also the point of the advice, "Write what you know." It doesn't mean "Write about chubby asthmatic nerds who spend ten hours a day folderizing trope pages"— it means "Draw on the things you like and have experience with, because those are the things you will write most convincingly about." It's not perfect advice, since there's always things you don't know that you'll have to write about, but as a starting point, it's not bad.
edited 28th Aug '11 6:02:42 PM by Ronka87
On the technical side of things, if you're writing about stuff you only read about and never saw first hand, there is the risk of harming the suspension of disbelief for a subset of the audience that is familiar with whatever you're describing. It's the little details that you take for granted that can trip you up and inadvertantly jar the reader out of the story. Things like whether the region you're describing has mainly doorhandles or doorknobs, or what kind of heads screws had in that era, or what the correct grip is for that particular weapon. Obviously, none of that is an issue if you're writing about imaginary technology.
Similar to that is the issue of dialogue; it's easy to think you know how people with a particular dialect talk, and then proceed to write something which sounds convincing to those unfamiliar with the dialect, but which no person with that dialect would actually say.
On the human side of things, I'd definitely say it's necessary to experience the emotions you're describing yourself and talk to the kind of people you're writing about, in part because I've seen far too many stories and TV shows that have done such a painfully bad job at portraying realistic emotions and dialogue, and in part because I find it nigh impossible to write people who are unlike those I've met in real life; when I try, I'm terrified somebody will read it and go "what the fuck, nobody acts like that!" (oddly enough, this is a particular problem for me when trying to write normal, masculine blokes, where the problem is not that I don't interact with them so much as I have trouble understanding or empathising with certain aspects of their behaviour, and it never seems appropriate to ask).
Feo: I am talking about things like the Coconut Effect, but I'm also talking about the same sort of thing you are. If someone has a limited personal experience, and reads a lot, they are much more likely to assume that if what they read corresponds to how they personally feel, it must be the way everyone feels.
edited 28th Aug '11 6:02:36 PM by Madrugada
If you interact with almost no one, and the breadth of your emotions is consequently limited to what you vicariously feel when you read books, I'm going to assume what you have to say isn't terribly interesting.
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