That’s What Friends Are For

Conversation

My life has been rather unremarkable. This would be fine if I wasn’t a writer. But the experts say to “write what you know.” What’s a writer to do if she’s had a happy childhood, has parents who are still married after five decades and has never experienced divorce, addiction or worse?

She steals from her friends.

Last week, I was struggling with my main character’s backstory. I know who she is, where her story begins and where she ends up, but I didn’t know what kind of life she’d led. What was the story with her parents? Her childhood? What made her she person she is today? 

What I needed were fresh eyes, and the input of people who’d lived different lives that I had. So I turned to my friends. I described my character, her personality, struggles, flaws and growth. Did my friends know anyone like this? What could cause someone to make such choices?

I’m happy to say that they came through. They had thoughts and ideas, memories and stories. As we exchanged questions and information, I finally felt like I could see my main character as a three-dimensional person.

Your friends might be big readers, or they may just have fascinating, complicated lives of their own and plenty of anecdotes to share. Talking to them is the best kind of research because you can ask questions and posit circumstances. When you get what you need, there’s no fear of alienating relatives who might recognize themselves in your novel.

Your book will be read by real people with real problems. Just because you haven’t personally experienced those problems doesn’t mean you can’t write about them. Tap your friends. Chances are they’ll be more than happy to contribute. Just be sure to thank them in the acknowledgments.

What research methods have worked for you when you’ve gotten stuck?

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