Some things are more difficult to research than others…

One upon a time, I found myself having to give a friend some awkward advice about writing:  virgins shouldn’t write sex scenes.  (For this, virgin means someone who has never had any sexual experience whatsoever with another person nor even read about sex enough to know what goes on between the participants and cannot even say the word ‘sex.’)  It seemed like common sense to me.  For any topic that your audience is likely to know more about than you do, you ought to remedy your own ignorance, one way or another, before writing.  Or you could always do what Niven did once upon a time when it came to writing about combat in his sci-fi:  avoid showing it directly.  Outside a few very specific subgenres, how often are the details of how characters have sex important to the story?

Lately I find myself needing to write about a “normal” university student, and I’m not sure how to do that, since being such a person is not and has not been part of my own experience.  If I followed my own advice entirely, I’d just avoid writing about normal humans at all, right?  Humans seem to be the majority of my readers, though, and we’re supposed to be all about diversity in fiction these days, and if I stick with writing the kind of people I’m most familiar with, there would be no “normal” humans in my stories.  [statistics deleted ’cause someone would take the numbers wrong]  However, I like this character, I don’t want to replace him with someone else, and he is too important in my fiction as the person he is for me to change him for my own temporary convenience.

So, this (more or less) normal-person character, as he is right now… He’s twenty years old.  Intelligent, but not a science major or computer geek or any of the other (unspeakably annoying) clichés for “smart person” as popular fiction — especially screen fiction — portrays such people.  He reads a lot but is not an introvert (he likes being around people, although he can also be comfortable on his own for a while), and although he drinks occasionally (even a few times before he was old enough to do so legally), he doesn’t get drunk for the sake of getting drunk.  Has an uncle whom he greatly admires and looks up to although he has seen this person only infrequently, and is generally not on speaking terms with the rest of his relatives.  Has a fondness for music that’s older than he is. Is attending university out-of-state because he wants to get away from the culture he grew up in.  He’s athletic but doesn’t like sports.  Lived off campus from the start rather than ever staying in a dorm — I don’t know how much that affects how he interacts with his friends and classmates, but it seems like it would.  Sci-fi/fantasy fan (because it matters for the backstory, actually) and tabletop gamer, but not inclined to attend gatherings of his own kind conventions.  Thinks steampunk is silly and doesn’t have any interest in it (unlike his authors); much prefers traditional high/epic fantasy over urban/contemporary (thank Murphy!).  Open and friendly and gregarious, but not prone to tolerating bullshit.  Less sarcastic/abrasive than his author.

It’s mostly his interactions with his friends and other people at university that I’m having trouble with, because I don’t know what these people would do with their time.  (Plea for help:  If you’re human, under the age of thirty, and are attending or have attended university, could I pick your brains a little bit?)

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About Thomas Weaver

I’m a writer and editor who got into professional editing almost by accident years ago when a friend from university needed someone to copyedit his screenplay about giant stompy robots (mecha). Having discovered that I greatly enjoy this kind of work, I’ve been putting my uncanny knack for grammar and punctuation, along with an eclectic mental collection of facts, to good use ever since as a Wielder of the Red Pen of Doom. I'm physically disabled, and for the past several years, I’ve lived with my smugly good-looking twin Paul, who writes military science fiction and refuses to talk about his military service because he can’t. Sometimes Paul and I collaborate on stories, and sometimes I just edit whatever he writes. It's worked out rather well so far. My list of non-writing-related jobs from the past includes librarian, art model, high school teacher, science lab gofer… Although I have no spouse or offspring to tell you about, I do have six cats. (The preferred term is "Insane Cat Gentleman.") I currently spend my time blogging, reading, editing, and fending off cats who like my desk better than my twin’s.
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One Response to Some things are more difficult to research than others…

  1. Mei-Mei says:

    I’m pretty sure I met the guy you are describing, when I was in college (small liberal arts school, not State U).

    During the day he’d be going to class, interspersed with meeting with friends to eat lunch or study in the library, and also working (this guy was a campus tour guide). In the evenings, he’d be attending campus events: plays his friends were in, lectures or movie showings, meetings of various clubs or societies. He’d also be writing papers,etc. either in his room or in a computer lab (I think he was either a poli sci or English major). On Friday nights, he’d be at his frat house, where playing Halo (sometimes drunk) was the official pastime. Or at other frat/campus house parties, sometimes with his girlfriend.

    Drop me a line if you have specific questions; I’d be happy to help.

    I sometimes feel like I don’t write about “normal” humans. All my characters have some aspect of my weirdness in them.

    Liked by 1 person

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