The Solitary Writer
And other popular myths. I am certain that there are people who exist, and write best, firmly avoiding any contact with their fellow human. I have doubts about the kind of writing they might produce. I mean, who can write a fully developed character who isn’t themselves (and no, I don’t mean a Mary Sue) who doesn’t watch other people? Writers may be the ultimate voyeurs.
The long-running joke (that isn’t a joke) is to not tease the writer, lest you wind up in a book. I think the addendum to that is that if you tease the writer you may wind up dying a thousand deaths (ala Joe Buckley of Baen authors fame. I was once asked why I hadn’t included Buckley in a book; because although I was a longtime Baen’s Barfly, I am not a Baen author. And am only slightly acquainted with Joe online). Or if you really tick them off, you might die horribly and awfully, as JL Curtis did with his most recent Rimworld book with a character I recognized immediately although real names are elided. Rimworld: The Rift, and I highly recommend it, not for that little bit, but because it’s a rollicking good space opera. You’ll also recognize another character in that book, which leads me to…
Tuckerization, the art of writing real people, with permission, into your stories. I don’t tuckerize often, but I have done it for friends I wanted to honor. It’s fun to create a character that picks out some traits of a person you like and magnifies them into the fiction you are spinning. The other version of this is Red-Shirting, from the Star Trek writers killing off all their support crew willy-nilly, only in a novel it’s using the names of real people for characters who are going to die. Sometimes this can go sideways. I once had to email a friend and explain that what I’d intended as a brief tuckerization, possibly red-shirt, had evolved into main character. He was flattered and gave permission to continue with his name – had he objected I would have used the find-and-replace to force my character into a new name.
I was thinking, with the title of this post, of other people than the characters in my books, no matter how real they may seem to me. I was thinking of the family who demands my time and cuts into my writing blithely. Of the friends who support me when I get stuck on a plot point and want to bounce ideas off someone outside my own head. Of the myriad of people I encounter over time who serve as models for the characters that inhabit the worlds in my head. I like people, by and large. I like watching people and seeing how they interact, and react, and working out the hidden motivations as well as the overt ones.
As much as we like to think of ourselves as solitary beings, living inside our own heads, the best writer emerges from their shell at times and partakes in human interaction. I don’t mean social media – that’s enough to give anyone mental indigestion, most of the time, unless you are very careful – but just to people-watch. Or to stop being so analytical for five minutes and just enjoy… but no. We’re not usually good at that, are we?
My point, I suppose, if the post must have a point other than my rambling about building characters as sort of a Frankenstein’s monster from the people we have met or simply observed from afar, is that no good writer is truly solitary. Unless you are writing a narrative without any humans in it – I’m sure that exists, just can’t think of one off top of my head – you’ll have characters. And the best characters, be they robots, cat-aliens, or simple humans, have human elements. They can’t help it. Reader and writer alike: we are all human. Writing is, in essence, the study of humanity, and then painting it with words into the story.