Kevin G Hare

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Don't Fear the Un-Comfort Zone

Sometimes, to be better writers, we need to dip outside of our norms and venture into the darker recesses of our minds to create that great fiction story. Not many newbie writers can do it and some of those who can, may not always come back the same. This is writing outside of our comfort zones and touching on topics or characters we think will change how we are looked upon.

This is a fear we must shed for it is our purpose to reach deeper, to go blind into unfamiliar territory so we can create through instinct instead of experience. This makes for a far richer story than writing what you know. A practice either taught to early writers or naturally picked up, we usually begin with subject matter and characters we are familiar with because we can find the words to write. We can describe because we have seen it and we can explain because we have experienced it. Writing what we know is easier and acceptable even because we need some information to build upon. However, it may not always do the story justice because it can be bland and flat. The story is told, the details are given in routine explanation and the finished result reads like a news article. There is no emotion, the story is not experienced through the eyes of a character and empathy cannot be achieved.

I would argue that writing what you know is adequate only for laying a beginner foundation for the mechanics of writing - grammar, sentence structure, punctuation, dialogue, - that sort of stuff. It is a method to get us familiar with creating a story and building a habit of writing. Later, we can use personal knowledge and experience - what we know - to pick out the details we need to create settings and characters but then embellish and fictionalize until our hearts content. We need let loose our imaginations and let that take the story where it will. Writing what you know can be used to authenticate the story but only to the point of sparking that imagination to bring it alive with fiction. It teeters that brink to take our fiction stories from plain narrative to the edges of mystery, drama, intrigue and empathy. Without empathy, we lose a vital connection with our readers.

The rule is show, don't tell. We can tell stories by writing what we know, or we can create experiences as real as any truth. Writing what we don't know allows opportunity for research, learning and new knowledge to bring out that extra sense of realism and credible detail.

Perhaps breaching that comfort zone for the more experienced writer is halted by fear. Perhaps we won't touch certain subjects because we don't want our readers to start believing we harbour such dark practices in real life. For example, a male writer casting a female lead in his book may make him out to be feminine or gay. After all, he would need to be in touch with his feminine side to make the character relatable to readers, right? Or a horror novelist may have a secret serial killer lurking beneath the introverted and already quirky personality. What of the hardcore fantasy writer? Are we mindless dreamers, never having a hold on reality and true responsibility?

If a writer is able to draw out different characters within him/herself, relate with the opposite sex, see through the eyes of different personality, knows what makes people afraid or happy, or has an intuitive understanding of behavioural patterns, then that, friends, is a writer who was meant to be a writer.

I feel obliged to tell you; we as writers, are not what's important to writing. The story matters most. The characters matter, the believability of their actions and decisions. To believe otherwise is to write for the benefit of ego and that we must shed to be the best at our craft. We must not fear under succeeding or over succeeding in our task; creating characters or fantastic places we take to not be good enough or be too good. That would sell the story short. Instead, embrace such things. Get comfortable in the uncomfortable. Get swept up in the 'dark parts' of our psyche for that is essential for the inflection of mood, emotion and detail.

We can write so we can gloat about being great writers, or we can write great stories and let them speak for themselves.


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