Articles / On Writing

Using Everyday Life to Improve Your Story

If you’ve read any of my writing articles, you know I’m a huge proponent of writing what you know. Often authors try to write about topics, settings, or situations of which they have little or no working knowledge, and this can become shockingly clear within the first few pages. One of the ways to write what you know is to use pieces of your everyday life when creating characters or crafting settings in your novel.

What does everyday life offer and how can everyday tasks help?

Simple, everyday tasks insert realism into your story.

Most stories include characters eating and sleeping, but a quick mention of a mundane task—not a long explanation of said task—during your narrative reminds your reader that your character is a real person who has to go to work, park a car, or unlock a door. If your character is a student, classes and extracurricular activities should also find their way into the story on a regular basis. Does this mean the reader needs to sit through eleventh-grade English class? No, but Kimberly could mention her hideous reading assignment from Mrs. Fredrickson while she’s on the phone with her best friend in chapter three.

Offhand mentions of everyday things can keep your characters from being one-dimensional—too perfect or too imperfect.

One of the things editors often note is the impossible perfection of the protagonist, causing a flat, one-dimensional character. A pretty and peppy cheerleader who gets frustrated while studying for a science midterm or grumbles to her parents about doing the dishes has more depth than Little Miss Perfect. Conversely, few antagonists are completely bad. The mean girl who treats a new kid kindly or helps her dad clean out the garage without prompting shows a person who has the ability for compassion.

Using your own tasks can help create settings with true-to-life touches that help your readers draw a picture.

You’re on your daily walk with your dog—look around and what do you see? Make note of the color of the houses, the smell in the air, the sound of the cars, and the feel of the cold wind on your face. Now take that back with you and write your scene. Imagine it’s a Saturday morning and you’re doing your weekly, heavy-duty cleaning. But then—dun, dun, dun—your mother calls and she’s on her way, so you do a quick, high-level clean. Now, take that spastic cleaning process and apply it your normal twentysomething guy whose new girlfriend is coming over for dinner.

Using normal, everyday tasks can bring that note of realism into your story and make scenes and characters more believable. What other ways can you think to use normal, ho-hum life to aid in your story-writing? Leave me a comment and share!

Happy writing!

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