I grew up thinking I was the dullest person alive living in the dullest circumstances imaginable. It was suburbia. It was school. It was summer vacations where we all sat around and stared at each other, bored out of our minds. Oh, we went away sometimes and did some things, but it was not much of a break from the dull, dull, dull.
Some people (I dreamed) lived exciting lives in faraway places. They had adventures. They had fun. I had never-ending math. To be sure, it is perfectly understandable that I should have been drawn to science fiction and fantasy tales, like Lord of the Rings and Invaders from Mars. But then I was always told a writer needs to write what they know. And I thought, who would ever want to read about the things I know? Twenty pages of my life would put someone into a coma.
Have you thought this way?
It was not until I aged that I began to make the connections and see that everything worth writing about was under my nose the whole time. God alone knows why I could not see that in my youth.
Now, if I want characters, I have known characters by the bucketful. I grew up with so many of them. All they wanted was what I wanted, to be put into an interesting situation. Give Doctor Kline a shot of adrenaline, or maybe a couple of energy drinks, or maybe a few shots of whiskey and stick him at the foot of the stairs. A monster is coming down the stairs? It may be a literal monster, or it might be his spouse or boss or unruly child. It could be anyone or anything. How will he respond?
If I want dialogue (conversation), well, I grew up talking. We all did. If I listened at all to myself and the person I was talking with, how could I not be able to write dialogue? We all talk. True, some only talk when there is something worth saying. But others talk all the time whether there is anything worth saying or not. I mean, come on!
If I lack a setting, I just think of all the places I have been. I can describe town halls, businesses, churches, schools, suburban settings, cityscapes, the wilderness, and on and on, and in rich detail because I have been there. Where have you been? And so what if your local forest suddenly shows up in that town you once visited on the other side of the country.
They say, “Write what you know,” but now that I think about it, I know tons. It is all grist for the mill. I don’t have to keep everything in my dull situation. I can add spice, and still be realistic about it, too. With a little age, I have experienced tragedies of all kinds in my life. I know what it feels like. I know how it works. I have seen joys and sorrows all around me in the lives of others. I know how many people, perhaps hundreds of different people and different kinds of people react and respond to such things, and how they talk about it, and what they say.
Oh, I can play with the circumstances and plot out a real adventure if I want. Maybe Doctor Kline turns pirate, but then all I need is the right setting, characters to interact and converse with one another, and respond appropriately to the good or ill events that occur. All that is already in my head, because it has been in my life, no matter how dull on the surface I believed it to be.
I could not see it when I was young. Now that I have aged like a good wine (though some might say vinegar) I see that everything I need to be a great storyteller is at my fingertips. I believe it is also at yours. As I say, it is all grist for the mill.