Writing what you know, or not

Here’s a problem. To write convincingly, you need to put yourself into a situation and live it.

No, that’s not the problem.

I have been able to put myself into the shoes of a number of very different people in very different situations. I have had people go to balls, ride in horse races across country, ride broken down nags, and get insulted in many different situations. I have had my characters perform in public, and do magic in such a way that no one would notice.

Again, not a problem.

I’m able to write all these situations without ever having done any of these things myself. How? Because… well, I’ve done something similar. I’ve gone to parties, I ridden horses, I’ve seen other people perform in public and known what they were feeling before and after. I can imagine all of these situations. I can put myself into the head of my characters as they do these things.

Not a problem.

What I cannot do, however, is having my characters have a yelling match, a screaming, knock down, insult flying fight.

I’ve tried.

My characters can insult each other, and I can tell you they are cruel, hitting right where it hurts the other person the most. But they don’t shout when they do it, or not for long.

I have no idea how to write people having a screaming fight. I’ve never done it (well, with the exception of once with my step-mother, but she’s a real expert at it and I was just riffing off of her). But in my family we don’t scream. We don’t yell. We may say something cutting and hurtful (although, happily, not often), but we’ve never yelled.

When we have disagreements (and there have been many, we are  family after all), we discuss it. We might say nasty things, but more often than not, we simply have disagreements that are calmly discussed until they can be discussed no more and then we’ll simply agree to disagree (my brother and I haven’t talked about politics in years because we sit at the opposite ends of the spectrum. We recognize this and know that there is nothing that we can say to make the other budge from their position, so we leave it alone and opt instead for talking about things we can agree on, like how fantastic our children are and what wonderful, supportive spouses we have).

This hit home to me today as I was writing a scene that I had envisioned would be a shouting match between two sisters. The elder wants the younger to enter society. The younger is dead-set against this. Terrified, actually.

I wanted a real bang-up fight. Yelling. Name calling. Shouting about the elder sister being so unfair as to insist on the younger doing something that is so repellent to her. But when it came out… it wasn’t that at all. It was a disagreement just like I have had with my family. It was all very civil. There was very little shouting.

This is really annoying! And, yes, it’s a real problem.

I can imagine myself in all sorts of places, doing all sorts of things I’ve never done before. I can put myself into the heads of all of my characters, understanding their backgrounds and motivations, their insecurities and everything that makes them “real” people. But I can’t make them yell at each other because I’ve never experienced this.

What about you? Can you get your characters to yell and shout at each other. Have you successfully written a bang-up fight?


Meredith Bond is an award-winning author of a series of traditionally published Regency romances and indie-published paranormal romances. Known for her characters “who slip readily into one’s heart,” Meredith’s heart belongs to her husband and two children. Meredith’s second favorite pastime is teaching others to write.

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