Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Comfort Zone

"Write what you know." If you're a writer, you've heard that piece of advice more times than you care to remember. If you follow it to the letter, however, you're going to get bored quickly and so will your readers. You've got to push yourself to learn new things, explore new ideas, and to boldly go where you've never gone before (I watched one of the original Star Trek episodes last night).

What does this mean? It means to break out of your comfort zone. Take a chance. Story is everything, and story comes directly from your characters. So, how do you create a character who doesn't share more of your traits than your twin sister or brother?

1. When traveling, choose a motel that's not one of the chains. Pick an independent in an older part of town and take notes.
2. Get off the interstate and drive through some small and not so small towns.
3. Forsake the boutique coffee shops and seek out the local breakfast diner/cafe.
4. Shop locally. Talk to the salespeople you meet.

As our world increasingly becomes more and more homogenized, it's a challenge to break out of the same old, same old. It's a challenge worth taking, however. Real people have stories to tell. You just have to look a little deeper.

For example, on our last trip out west, we stayed at an older motel on the outskirts of a small town not far from a freeway interchange. The motel was a large, rambling affair probably built in the '70s. Just a couple of cars in the parking stalls. A wrecked chain link fence separated it from a truck stop, which was the main source of guests. And in the morning, a young teenaged boy with a backpack stopped by the breakfast bar and spread peanut butter on two slices of toast. The school bus pulled up out front and the boy got on. "He lives here," the manager said.

What a writer could do with that.


  1. You could probably do a lot with that idea!
    Last time I 'boldly went' I got lost. Not very good with directions.

  2. Ideas are everywhere--including one's own life. It's HOW you write about what you know IMHO. It's what you do with that boy who lives at that old motel!

  3. Ah, an interesting scene, that. And your description made it more so. I agree that one should break out of a rut and move into unfamiliar realms to keep the writing fresh.