The Exotic Mundane

“An artist is a dreamer consenting to dream of the actual world.” – George Santayana

The writer’s mind is like a sponge, absorbing all moisture from around it, only to spill everything when squeezed. Your life is going to creep in to your writing, even if you don’t subscribe to the “write what you know” belief. Instinct drives the expression of the human mind through art. Writers are artists.

What’s more, you shouldn’t fight it. Artists are illusionists of reality. We take the real and twist it, deforming fact into fiction. We get our readers to believe our stories by weaving the truth and fantasy into a tight, indistinguishable mesh.

You absolutely should take aspects of those around you, their quirks, habits, vices, and hobbies. You should use those aspects to create three-dimensional characters. But you should also remember that fiction is fiction, and you must change enough about those people that they can’t sue you for libel or defamation of character. Change their names, appearances, speech patterns, everything.

Writing is like a puzzle that can be put together many different ways. Unless you are writing non-fiction, you must make sure it is actually a fictional character, no matter how real it seems. Or you can take the advice of Anne Lamott if it is a man. Write that the character has a small penis.  No one will ever claim you were writing about him.

In recent years, I’ve seen a lot of real life creep in to writing, mostly because I realized it was pointless to write about people living in cities. I’ve never been to a large city, much less lived in one. How could I possibly know what it is like to live in New York City or Los Angeles? Besides, there are more than enough writers writing about those settings. I am familiar with the rural, the suburban, and the dynamics of living in a place where everyone knows about you.

Very few writers can duplicate that knowledge. I know what it is like to be known by everyone in your area. I know what is like to live in a place where secrets are hard to keep and the difference between friends and enemies is defined by days, rather than names. I know what it is like to have to worry about reputation, not in the media or your career, with your neighbors.

As such, I dove into reading Flannery O’Conner, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and others who wrote about similar places. These environments are a part of my life, their people a part of my history, and my fiction is richer for using them.

Don’t be afraid to use the parts of your life that seem mundane. What is mundane for one may be exotic for another. Spice your writing with the ingredients of your life, and make it a truly special concoction.

Jack Campbell, Jr. is a dark fiction writer in Lawrence, KS. His writing has appeared in various venues including Twenty 3 Magazine, Danse Macabre, and Insomnia Press. He writes about reading, writing, and life on his blog at

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