Sunday, February 20, 2011

Writing What You [don't] Know.

Everybody tells you, "write what you know." Well, what if you find yourself writing what you don't know? Let's say you have a character whose head you simply can't break into...what then? With these characters, what's needed is so much more than research.

I'm writing about a six-year old kid named Amos, who suffers from selective mutism, a result of emotional trauma. I've done a little research on this condition, but am still finding myself searching for ways to "get to know" Amos, and I find myself wishing I had some more experience working with special needs children. Or just more experience working with young children in general. I see this kid in my head. I've conversed with him a bit. I think I know how he will respond to the various events that happen throughout my story, but I'm not entirely certain that I can write it. I guess I'm just trying to negotiate that interface between mentally recognizing a character and imbuing him with personality on the page.


Any thoughts? Any similar difficulties you've experienced? I'd love some feedback! 


  1. OMG...I am so happy you wrote this. I have been struggling with that same thing in my WIP. He is a middle aged man who has given up on the idea of being happy. I don't understand it and struggle to predict his reactions.

    I once taught a student who suffered horrible neglect. He had no coping strategies for stress. the his only response was to meow or hiss. So conversations went like this:
    Me- We need to get out our paper, and put our names at the top.
    him- hiss
    Me- wow that was a great noise! Now where is your paper?
    him- meow.

    (It continued until I gave up.) Eventually by the end of the school year he was replying and talking. Good luck with Amos

  2. Wow, I'm so glad you eventually broke through with this student! How interesting.

    What does WIP stand for? Good luck, yourself, with this unhappy character! Thanks for the feedback!

  3. Oh my god! I LOVE this picture! It captures exactly how we think in our minds then what we show forth from our actual bodies!

  4. I don't know how to write about someone I can't relate too....I should practice that idea though!

  5. Yhis picture says so much in my brain!


  7. CRY, I got this picture from Writer's Sense. I can't believe I forgot to cite it.

    I'm sure it's fine if you use it, also!

  8. I so know what you mean here!

    I have this idea in mind for the third book I want to start writing . . . who knows when . . . but it will require the perspective of two individuals in their seventies, and their knowledge of life when they were young.

    Is research enough?

    I'm not entirely certain I can pull it off. . .

    But I have to say. . . we've both got the writing itch. . . so, succeed or fail, we can't help but try.

    If you come across any useful advice pass it along!

  9. Lauren, you're idea goes along SO perfectly with that photo I posted! How crazy! And you're right-- All we can do is try. I have a feeling, and I think I've mentioned probably about a hundred times, that simply sitting down to write will help smooth things out. Here I am, just your chronic overthinker...

  10. regards to the selective mutism; I'm a retired speech pathologist and I've seen a couple cases of this sort; brought on my trauma. In therapy, you have the child cough, or clear his throat, whistle, hum, and then gradually work up to "voicing"; the child has decided, on a very deep level, not to speak; over time he can be "tricked" into vocalizing and you go from there. Very fascinating.

  11. WIP = work in progress.

    Laura, I firmly believe that it's better to do too little research than too much. Get the words down on the page first. You can always rewrite if it turns out you got something wrong.



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