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The Devil You Know

| by Winter Lawrence |


I have a background in psychology, so I’ve met some colorful characters in my day. I was also born and raised in New York City, and I had a very interesting, unique upbringing. Suffice it to say, I’ve encountered a variety of personality types—some good; some not so good. Of course, as a writer, I’m able to use these experiences in my stories. Oftentimes, I find myself drawn to writing about the people I’ve had personal experiences with because I’m genuinely familiar with them and I feel comfortable conveying the nuances of those relationships.

To be a well-rounded writer though, I have to create personality types based on people I’ve never met before. This can be tricky, especially when I’m writing about supernatural entities or far-off intergalactic species. Can I honestly capture the essence of an angel or an interstellar traveler? Or, can I, as a Hispanic female from the Bronx, truly portray the life of an Ethiopian girl whose family is struggling with poverty during an Ebola outbreak? The answer is simple. Yes, I can, because as a writer I can draw from my own experiences to create authentic characters and situations—even when I haven’t lived through it.

That isn’t to say I don’t have to do my research. Naturally, there are topics I’m more inclined to write about than others, so for those times when I’m writing about something I’m not entirely familiar with—or I’m downright clueless about, I don my detective gear and dive into research mode. It’s key to becoming a successful writer, and while reading up on topics is a great way to garner information, I also recommend chatting with folks who have experienced what you’re writing about. Firsthand accounts can really help a writer authentically capture a culture or a situation. And in those instances where an author is writing about an entirely fictionalized species, the information gained from researching and interviewing can still be used to create relatable characters that your readers will cherish.

And that, my friends, is the most important aspect of writing: making sure you’re creating believable, three-dimensional characters who readers want to get to know.

Just keep in mind that creating an authentic character doesn’t guarantee that people will want to read about them. Boring is boring no matter where you are in the universe. For instance, let’s say you want to write about a species of Twinkbots on the Planet Hostess. For most of the year, these little Twinkies spend all day basking in the glow of the Marshmallow Moon, but for one week out of the year, they all migrate to The River of Eternal Dairy Foam to lay their little Twinkbot eggs.

Sounds interesting, right?

I mean, the story, for what it’s worth, could be amazing, because you, as a mere human on the planet Earth, know of other animals who migrate to far-off places to reproduce. You know the perils they face. You know the obstacles they must overcome. You know many won’t survive. There’s a great potential for drama here. There’s tension. So if I were to finish this story with nothing bad ever happening to the little Twinkbots, and then they all lived happily ever after, will anyone truly want to read that? I think not, which is why, as authors, when we create anyone—human, angel, talking dog—we have a responsibility to our readers to make them realistic and relatable; otherwise, no one will want to read about them.

My best advice to novice writers then is to stick to the devil you know. Angels may not be real, but you know enough humans to amass a pretty good list of possible traits that will create one with an intriguing personality. Just remember that as with humans, if you create a great-looking angel who does no wrong, then there’s nothing special enough about him to keep the reader interested. If, however, you create a good-looking angel who struggles with a Twinkie addiction, then you’re getting more three dimensional. Add in a charge who works at a Hostess factory, which would make it impossible for the angel to avoid the temptation of those lovely little golden cakes, and then you’re really cooking with fire!

Remember, it’s all about tension and creating well-rounded characters, so in the beginning, be sure to write about the devil you know, because you’ll always be able to write those characters well. Later, when you’re a seasoned writer, you can experiment with depth of character, though even then I recommend sticking to topics and people you hold near and dear to your heart. In that way, you’re not only able to create amazing worlds, but you’re also able to weave a little bit of yourself into the story!

As always, thanks for your time, and until next time, friends, be well and write on!




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