When Should You “Write From Experience”? – A Ramble

Well, I thought that I’d quickly look at the topic of writing from experience today. This is mostly because I’ve noticed it happening a few times, such as in a couple of the short stories that I posted here last February or in the second comic from the webcomic mini series that I’m making at the moment:

This is a preview. The full comic update will be posted here tomorrow.

So, does this mean that I agree with the idea that writers should “write from experience“?

Yes and no.

In short, experience can be a good source of emergency inspiration and/or a starting point if you’ve got no other ideas, and it can also occasionally come in handy for thinking of small “realistic” details too. But, experience isn’t the be all and end all of creativity. Even if you’ve got the experience, you still need imagination. After all, fiction and autobiography are very different things.

So, even if you use your experience as a starting point, then you’re still going to have to come up with a way to turn it into something different and imaginative. You’re still going to have to find a way to make it more interesting than real life. You’re still going to have to think of fictional characters, intriguing background details, a plot etc.. So, experience is a good starting point, but it isn’t essential.

Likewise, many genres of fiction usually involve things that people can’t experience in real life. Whether it’s science fiction, vampire stories, medieval fantasy or whatever, it is the impossibility of these stories that makes them so interesting. So, the people writing these stories can’t be writing from direct experience.

I think that a better way of looking at this subject is to think about writing what you are knowledgeable about, rather than what you have directly experienced.

For example, this short story of mine wasn’t written from direct experience – because I’ve never explored an abandoned shopping centre. But, I’ve been to a few non-abandoned ones (including when MVC shops still existed), I was fascinated by horror movies when I was younger and I’ve watched lots of fascinating Youtube videos filmed by people who have visited abandoned shopping centres. So, I know a bit about the topic. This then allowed me to come up with an interesting fictional story.

Likewise, this short story about a person who develops a psychic connection to the internet wasn’t based on direct experience. The initial inspiration for this story was having a dream which involved a situation where the internet wasn’t working (which, in that situation, saved the day) and then, upon waking, noticing that the internet was playing up. This bizarre coincidence made me think “what would happen if someone could sense whether the internet was working?“. After that, I relied on both my imagination and my knowledge of the internet to come up with a satirical sci-fi/magic realist story.

So, you’re probably seeing a theme here. Experience and/or knowledge can be useful starting points. But, you still need to use your imagination to tell a story that is more interesting than real life.

In other words, if you write about what you know, then you’re going to feel more inspired. You’re going to be more confident. Your story or comic will probably sound more realistic too. But, imagination matters more than all of this. Knowledge and experience are two tools that your imagination can use. They aren’t a replacement for your imagination.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Time Travel And Art Mediums- A Ramble

This article is a little bit different to my usual articles, since it’s more of a short account of an eerie experience I had whilst editing the final page of this year’s Halloween comic.

Still, it seemed like it was worth writing about (since I imagine that some of you may be able to have similar experiences, and because I felt like preserving an account of the experience ).

About two-thirds of the way through making the line art for the final page of this year’s Halloween comic, my drawing pen ran out of ink. So, I looked through my stash of drawing pens and picked out a new one. However, I soon realised that this was a fine-tipped one (rather than the medium ones I normally use). At the time, I thought that this was kind of cool, since the thinner nib allowed me to cram more stuff into one of the more detailed panels.

However, when I was digitally editing the line art for the page, I suddenly saw the line art I’d made with the fine-tipped pen and, in that instant, the comic page suddenly seemed like it could have come from my early experiments with comics during 2010. Back then I tended to use fountain pens and fine-tipped pens regularly.

Even though quite a few years had passed, it suddenly felt like I was back in 2010 again.

It felt like I’d come full circle. It felt like I’d suddenly picked up a comic I had left unfinished in 2010 and had kept making it, like no time had passed whatsoever. The past few years felt like they just hadn’t happened. It didn’t so much feel like I’d travelled back in time, but more like I just hadn’t travelled forward since 2010.

My mind was suddenly flooded with ultra-vivid memories of both that year and the “atmosphere” of that year (this is the only way I can describe it). This was an experience that is difficult to really put into words. But it totally caught me by surprise.

And it all came from using a pen with a slightly thinner nib to the one that I usually use.

It’s amazing how something as simple as this can evoke memories. But, if you’ve been making art for a while, then it’s very likely that you’ve experimented with several different art supplies and/or art mediums over time. So, there’s a very good chance that the art supplies you used to use are more connected with your memories than you might think.

Ok, this might just be me. But, it’s certainly something that can take you by surprise.

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Sorry for the ultra-short article, but I hope it was interesting 🙂

How To Use Your Experiences As Inspiration For Your Webcomic

2016 Artwork Webcomic memories inspiration

Usually, I’m extremely sceptical about the advice that you should “write what you know” for the simple reason that imagination is often more interesting than memories. However, whilst searching for inspiration for a couple of upcoming webcomic updates, I found that my memories actually came in handy (albeit when used in a particular way).

At the time of writing, I was making a webcomic mini series (called “Damania Resolute”) which will appear here at the start of next year. Finding inspiration for it was slightly more challenging than I had expected. Still, I was able to come up with two comic ideas a few hours before writing this article by writing from experience, albeit with a twist.

Unless your comic is explicitly autobiographical or your life is peppered with amusing webcomic-like conversations, then using your experiences as source material for your webcomic can be something of a tricky thing to do. If you just plonk your memories directly into your webcomic, then they will probably seem out of place when compared to the rest of the comic.

However, there’s a very easy way that you can use your memories for inspiration without affecting the tone of your comic. All you have to do is to look at the subject matter of your memories (eg: places, activities, items etc…) and then see how your webcomic characters would react to the same things.

Sometimes, they might react in a similar way to how you did (especially if your own reaction was fairly amusing) but they might also react in totally different ways. If you know your characters well enough, then you can create interestingly different comic ideas by introducing things from your own memories into the comic and seeing how they react to it.

This allows you to use your experiences for inspiration, without making your webcomic seem autobiographical.

To give you an example from my upcoming mini series, one of the things that I remember from growing up in the 1990s was the whole virtual pet craze. I had two of them and, for a while at least, they were really cool. They were like a key ring, a gadget and an interesting little creature all in one. They were the future!

Anyway, instead of making a comic about my own experiences with virtual pets, I wondered what would happen if one of my characters (who is obsessed with the 1990s) found one of her old digital pets…

If you grew up in the 1990s, you'll probably remember THESE...

If you grew up in the 1990s, you’ll probably remember THESE…

Not only did this allow me to tap into 1990s nostalgia for inspiration but I also realised that one of the other characters would react to the digital pet in a slightly different way. It took me a few minutes to think carefully about this, but I suddenly found that I had the perfect idea for an ironic joke about technology. It had nothing to do with my original memory, but the initial premise of the comic was inspired by my memory.

So, yes, if you want to use your memories for inspiration in a more creative way than just adding them to your comic, then just ask yourself “How would my characters react to the things from my memories?“.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Weird Experiences And Inspiration

2015  Artwork weird experiences article sketch

A few weeks ago, I accidentally clicked on a link in an online article that took me to one of the most addictive websites on the internet. I am, of course, talking about a site called “Cracked” [Mildly NSFW]. I’d seen this site before and, despite knowing how addictive it was, it still took me about two hours before I finally managed to finish reading stuff on it.

Anyway, so that I didn’t feel like I’d completely wasted those two hours, I thought that I’d see if the site can teach us anything about writing.

You see, one of the many reasons why the site is so addictive is because many of the articles on it are about strange experiences people have had.

Yes, there are a lot of other reasons why it’s such compelling reading (eg: the list-like article titles, the site’s wonderfully twisted sense of humour etc…) but one of the major draws of the site is that you get to read about the more unusual parts of other people’s lives.

For example, some of the more macabre articles I read had titles like “6 Horrifying Things I Learnt As A Paramedic” and “5 Horrific Things You Learn Preserving Brains For A Living“. But, as well as this, the site also focuses on the stranger elements of more mundane experiences too – like in an article titled “The 5 Unexpected Downsides Of Working At A Movie Theater“.

But how is any of this useful to us as writers?

Normally, I’m extremely sceptical about the whole concept of “writing from experience” for the simple reason that your imagination will often produce far more interesting stories than your memories will. However, using your weird experiences for inspiration is the one exception to this rule.

If you add some of your own weird experiences or bizarre “insider knowledge” about something to your story – either directly or indirectly – then it will make it a lot more fascinating to read.

And, I know what you are thinking – “I’ve lived a rather ordinary life. There’s nothing interesting enough in there to write about.

I can almost guarantee that this is wrong.

The fact is that we’ve all either got slightly eccentric interests, have had at least one slightly unusual experience and/or have a unique perspective on a supposedly “common” part of life.

You see, because we’re all different people with different lives, the whole question of what is and isn’t “strange” is a matter of opinion more than anything else. One person’s “strange” is another person’s “normal” and vice versa.

You might have to do a bit of introspection and thinking, but I can pretty much guarantee that there’s something in your life that other people would find “weird” or “interesting” if you found a compelling way to write about it.

But, of course, we live in a world that places way too much emphasis on being “normal”. So, although it may be easy for you to find the “weird” parts of your own life, the idea of writing about them might seem more than a little bit intimidating.

If you start to worry about this, then just remember that you’re writing fiction. No-one expects it to be true, so you can find all sorts of sneaky ways to hide autobiographical stuff in your stories. If anyone asks you about it, then just tell them that you did a lot of research before writing your story – which, in a way, you actually did.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂