I’ve developed a new motto when it comes to trying new things: “I’ll do anything once.”
If you knew me a few years ago, you’d know that this is totally out of character for me. I’ve always been the guy who likes the “known” and “familiar”–things that are well within my comfort zone.
But over the last years of being a writer, I’ve had to make changes and do things a whole new way. I’ve had to be open to new experiences.
Why would new experiences matter to a writer?
Think about it: let’s say you are a man (like me). In your books, you can’t have all-male characters who think and act just like you. Your men have to be different–good, bad, short, tall, strong, weak, and so on. Then you have to write women, which adds a whole new layer of complexity to your writing. If you have to write children, old people, monsters, and creatures, you’re way out of your comfort zone!
In my “secret side project“, I’m writing about a female thief who climbs to the top of the tallest tower in the city. She is stunned when she looks down and sees the city laid out below. Do you know where that experience comes from? From the time I went bungee jumping at the age of 15. I can feel that same rush of excitement, the same knot in my stomach, and the same thrill of being up high as my character is feeling. That helps me to make the character’s experience that much more authentic, and that’s what I transmit to the reader.
As a writer, it’s all about trying to fill as many shoes as possible. You have to try to think, act, and speak like each of the characters you are writing. If you don’t, your characters come off as inconsistent or–even worse–bland and generic.
But how can you fill those shoes properly? After all, you’re just one man! What can one man do? (I know that’s a reference to something, I just can’t figure out what…)
Well, there’s where “the new” comes into play. The more you experience, the more you talk to people, the more points of view you can understand, the easier it will be to put yourself in the shoes of the characters you’re writing. You will have an easier time seeing from behind the eyes of your men, women, children, old people, monsters, and myths because you can relate to them in a way.
The broader your base of experience, the broader your store of knowledge. The more experience you have, the more you have to draw from. That will fuel your creativity and expand your creative horizons, making it easier for you to write broader, deeper, and more varied characters and stories.
If you want to be a better writer, you have to try new things! It’s just one small way to gain more experience, which will help you have an easier time putting yourself in your characters’ shoes.