Writerly Rant #45
by M.J. Moores, OCT. Author. Editor. Freelance Writer.
I’m not debating personal ethics, Karma, or even suggesting how to live your life. No. Quite frankly, if you want to be a good writer you can’t snub your nose.
A ‘nose snub’ is when a person – for whatever reason – puts their nose in their air and refuses to acknowledge or experience something based on a preconceived notion. Often the nose snub happens when we believe we’re above something or we don’t want to ‘get dirty’ or make our life more complicated than it all ready is.
Many people do this on a regular basis without even realizing it. I do it. When the news comes on and the anchorman speaks of yet another war (or the continuance of one that’s been around for too many years as it is), or another pet death due to neglect, or a forest fire that reeks havoc on live millions of miles away – I don’t really listen to the story. I’ve heard it before and there’s only so much pain and grief from outside sources that I can allow into my life before it takes over my sanity.
But I know that there are readers who operate the same way I do. So, how does a writer get past the casual nose snub and draw readers in?
By allowing themselves to move beyond their own nose snubbing and by digging deep to make work believable on a personal level. The only way to achieve this is to convince your reader that the narrator/character has been there or has experienced it.
And readers can tell when you’re faking it or using someone else’s words.
If you’re going to write about being scorched in a fire — what that feels like, looks like, smells like… you’d better start talking to firemen or victims of fire. If you just whip together a scene based on a movie or TV show you’ve seen, you’re going to miss things. The closer you can get to experiencing something first-hand, the better.
That homeless woman on the street corner you ignore on your way to see the sights in the city… she could be an invaluable source of information. I’m not saying you need to interview her, but you do need to keep an open mind. Look at her. Make eye contact. Drop a few coins into her cup to get close enough to smell her and see her features — consider volunteering at a homeless shelter. At the very least, you should start internalizing other people’s perceptions and analyzing your own choices before writing a homeless person into a significant role in your story.
Growing up I’ve seen so many middle and upper-class people (school friends, friends’ parents, passers by) avoid streets where bike shops are or places where bikers hang out. The negative stigma attached to bikers is astounding. Yes, there are dangerous motorcycle gangs and creepy people who ride, but they’re not all like that.
Every day I take my young son to the post office to pick up the mail (that’s where our post box is located). We walk to get some fresh air. We walk past a motorcycle repair shop kiddy-corner to the post office. I don’t rush by. I don’t ignore the people who are there waiting for an oil change, just like anyone else might wait for one on their car. I don’t tell my son those are dangerous people. I do nod and smile when someone makes eye contact, and I let my son wave ‘hello’ as we walk by. Just today the owner was putting his trash in the bins at the end of the driveway, just like any average middle-class family man might, and we chatted about the weather.
So how does this help me as a writer?
I’ve walked by this bike shop for nearly a year. Yesterday I decided that the main character in my Paranormal Urban Fantasy Story (to be written during NaNoWriMo – national novel writing month) will ride a motorcycle. I don’t know a darn thing about the machines other than the fact that I’m scared s**tless of riding them, but it made perfect sense to do this in the story. So how am I going to give my readers an authentic experience in my writing? Sure, I’ll do some research online, but the door I’ve left open by not nose snubbing this bike mechanic and his customers will give me an avenue of genuine experience to draw from — to help me ‘get it right’ in the book. I can look at a variety of bikes in person, talk to their owners and get advice from the owner/mechanic himself on how to build the right bike for my character.
So I say, don’t snub your nose… pick it. You might just find a gold nugget to write about 😛
M.J. Moores is a high school English teacher turned author, editor and freelance writer. Her love of books stems from being one of the top readers in her class at the age of 7. Her passion for writing ignited at the age of 9 when she learned that both kids and adults enjoyed her adventure stories.
M.J.’s first science fiction novel The Chronicles of Xannia: Time’s Tempest will be launched October 1st, 2014. In anticipation of this achievement she is offering readers one free Lost Chapter a month until its release. The Lost Chapters are glimpses into the world of Time’s Tempest looking at scenarios spoken about but not delved into during the course of the main story.