“The first and most important requirement is an understanding of human nature. … A man learns nothing when he talks; he learns by listening. Which is why those who talk the most are, in the ordinary run of things, fools.” – Essay on Novels, The Marquis de Sade
More writing advice from the esteemed (alright, notorious and dubious) Marquis de Sade. He is onto something, however.
Writers need to be students. Students of all that life has to inform us. I am a firm believer in reading, observing, listening and contemplating (possibly to a fault – I do drift off sometimes into my own private world of wonder). How else can a writer put him or herself into the mind of a character –a character who does not share your own life’s experience, beliefs, opinions, motivations, desires or biases?
Ask the why and the what for? What motivates people to do the things they do? Is it a lust for power, wealth, fame? Or duty, honor and family obligation? Or most nobly, for love?
Observe people talking to their partners across the table at a restaurant. What do you gather from their facial expressions? Is it a romantic evening or is tension in the air? What can you gather by listening to the person next to you on the train as they talk on the phone? Is it business, a family matter, personal? (I am not advocating stalking, FYI!)
Just like traveling to the location we wish to use as our setting so as not to get it wrong, the characters we write also need to be authentic. And thus as we listen and observe, we then become empaths, placing ourselves in the situations we wish to write about.
And in the spirit of the above advice, I will stop talking and let the marquis’ words stand on their own.
Image thanks to NPR