That wonderful line is repeated in a more common form by George's "girlfriend" when she kisses him on the cheek and tells him, "Just write what you know." But how are you going to know what you need to write?
But if you do KNOW, what a liberating feeling for writers of any genre. Instead of knocking writer's block out of your head, become an expert on something. Who will dare argue with you then.
So, what has any of that to do with our latest new "love child," Lindsay Lohan? Plenty.
But first, a comment about the picture at right, obviously taken during her more "natural" period, when she was feeling healthy and confident. She's a pretty girl, with a disarming, comfortable smile. I think this picture reveals her "true essence" and not the spoiled brat image she's more recently be able to convey as she headed off to jail to have her hair extensions and false eyelashes removed by the guards (after she refused to do it on their own).
Do you see the character arc here? It's abundant. And I hope that Lindsay will be able to learn much about her true, natural beauty while sitting in her cell. But, let's get back to the point.
"What point is that, Stan?"
Well, ah .... that characters you write about in your stories must reflect the true essence and real (but false) masks that regular people are and pretend to be. The artists that we revere, like Norman Rockwell, and even the great masters of the last centuries, frequently used real people to sit as models for their paintings.
Write what you know.
As fictional writers we sometimes get credit for "making up and creating" great characters. But, let's be honest. You're better off using real people as models. You'll stay more true to their true essence and false masks.
Usually, however, although we "watch" and contemplate those around us and in the news, we still may not know what makes them tick. We see the nuisances of their life, but what's driving them? Is there a childhood wound? Was the individual's parents as mentally deranged as our loving neighbor seems to be? What's the motivation for their erratic (and entertaining) behavior? The problem is WE REALLY DON'T KNOW... but we need to know (even a tiny bit more) if we're going to write competently.
THE $4.95 WRITER'S AID
One day, while trying to figure out the personality disorders of some students, I was walking through a college bookstore. As I turned a corner I was almost run down by a seven-foot rack containing dozens of colorful, laminated Academic QuickStudy.com aids. Printed on three-hold punched, plasticized, tightly packed text cards, were the answers to all the college exams ever given. There was one for Physics, American History, Biology, Calculus, French and dozens more. And then I saw it, the answer to ever writer's dream. It was titled "PSYCHOLOGY: ABNORMAL" (emphasis in the original).
Like God guiding my hand I lifted it quickly from the rack. I started to drool. The colorful boxes were labeled with titles that lite up like flashing neon signs on a dark night: "MENTAL ILLNESS...Criteria & Definitions, Causal Factors, Cause of Disorders, Classification & Diagnosis, Treatments, General Causes of Abnormality." Opening up the card (it's one 11 x 17 inch laminated sheet folded to 8.5 x 11) there are short, understandable descriptions of disorders usually first diagnosed in infancy, childhood, or adolescence (e.g. childhood wounds), Anxiety Disorders, Substance Related Disorders, Mood Disordeers, and it goes on and on -- with fairly specific descriptions like this one:
Dissociative Fugue: Characterized by episodes of sudden, unexpected travel away from home or one's ordinary place of work, accompanied by an inability to recall one's past and confusion about personality or the assumption of a new identity.That could be the diagnosis of Colton Harris-Moore (aka "the Barefoot Bandit"), accompanied by:
Antisocial Personality Disorder: A pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood..."Has anyone talked to his mom lately, who considered Colton her hero.
As for Lindsay Lohan, well, as I read the story about her refusal to take out her hair extensions, remove her false eye lashes, and how she had collagen lip implants just before entering jail, there's this:
Body Dysmorphic Disorder: The preoccupation with an exaggerated or imagined effect in physical appearance.Or
Histrionic Personality Disorder: Characterized by pervasive and excessive emotionality and attention-seeking behavior, originating in early adulthood and manifesting in a variety of contexts. Individual feels uncomfortable and unappreciated if he/she is not the center of attention. Individuals with this disorder will often behave in a melodramatic, histrionic, and flirtatious manner.Then, again, she could be suffering simply from:
Immaturity: Maturity level is below the degree of what is expected at specified age or social milieu.What's nice about the Quick Study aid is the focused summation of personality and psychological descriptions that would all a writer to focus the behavior of a character to a specific set of actions.