Human nature has always been a fascinating study of mine. Back in the day of shopping malls, I used to go, and people watch for entertainment. Now, you’d barely be able to find a mall, let alone me in one unless forced against my will. Observing other people is something that writers often do, mostly as a character study, or additional writing development: the atmospheric feel of specific environments, the emotional reactions of people to circumstances or events.
The problem occurs when writers go introspective (this happens a lot, FYI); when trying to get to the root of choices or decisions they’ve made during their lifetime or reconciling feelings attached to those events. Analyzing a person’s intent, even of themselves is key to character development for any novel, so using one’s own experience is part and parcel of the writing process most times. While not all character writing is reflective of the author, there can be a lot of “what would I do in this situation?” when drafting a scene or developing a character.
I’m a bonified card-carrying member of the Bad Choices Association (aka BCA), having made a plethora of sketchy choices during my lifetime. It should be made clear though, hard decisions shouldn’t be confused with the wrong choice, even though both can leave the owner of the outcome with deep regrets.
Regret has been a focus area for writing my main character in my current WIP, which has, in turn, forced me to face my own regrets in life to do her character justice. It’s been difficult, to say the least. While her regret is from a past accident, and mine was from a somewhat recent hard decision, I think the core emotions run true: a deep desire undo the past. Whether an accident or on-purpose, events were so life-altering that it burns the soul on a daily basis.
I’ve never done anything accidentally that harbored a burning regret, so how could I write about that? The only way is to tap into the hard decision I made to break off a relationship for the sake of my special-needs son (unbeknownst to the gentleman of the real reason), in turn hurting someone I cared about deeply and still do to this day. The problematic part is ignoring the self-sacrificing aspect of my own regret as I write (not to be confused with self-important, which I am definitely not). However, my character’s accident was caused by her acting on instinct – something I can unquestionably relate to and translate into my writing.
So even though the cause of regret may not be the same, there are still elements surrounding it that can be tapped into from personal experience. I think this exercise can be applied to any emotion or intent that a character is displaying. For this reason, my writing, at least, is a very personal experience.
I have supernatural creatures in this current novel: Faeries, Elves, etc. Do I know what it’s like to be either of those? Hell no! (Who does?) But I do know what it’s like to be overly empathetic, cold and aloof, and an outsider. All of my characters come either from my study of human nature or from gleaning from my own experience.
I think all writers wear masks when writing. Some are just more transparent than others.