You wouldn’t know me from my writing

Palm trees and an ocean view

I prefer to write about places I know well. Someday, all of my stories will be set here.

For years, I heard my writing teachers telling me to put more of my own experiences into my writing. I’ll be honest with you, though. My life was pretty boring. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to read about me.

I don’t like writing about real life. I prefer the odd, the strange, and the fantastic. I’m more at home talking about people with superpowers than work, relationships, or my efforts to catalog my DVD library.

But here and there, my real life has started slipping into my writing. A woman in my short story reminds me of my wife. And the banter she shares with the protagonist is reminiscent of the way my wife and I finish one another’s thoughts.

Other characters, too, reflect certain aspects of people I know: an old friend, a mentor, or an obnoxious guy at work. Of course, I have to do something to make them interesting. So sometimes that guy in my office turns out to be a tasty snack for a demon or an early casualty in an alien invasion.

Mostly, though, it’s settings that I steal from real life.

I’m no good at imagining cities I have never lived in. I couldn’t write a hard-boiled detective noir set in 1950s L.A. I can’t write about New York City. I’ve tried writing about Florida, but it’s been 20 years since I lived there. I’m sure it’s changed a bit.

The only reason I set my current novel in Chicago is because I’ve actually visited there recently. Well, that and the fact that I destroyed half the city before the story began. The streets of “New Chicago” don’t have to bear a strong resemblance to what exists there now. I have kept a few of the neighborhood names, and some landmarks. But I had to spend hours pouring over Google Maps and ¬†Wikipedia pages to make sure I managed to get those details right.

For now, I’ll stick with people and places I know, even if I have to change them up a bit to make them more interesting.

As Jimmy Buffett once sang:

“Don’t try to describe the ocean if you’ve never seen it.
Don’t ever forget that you just may wind up being wrong.”

Kevin Wohler is a copywriter and novelist living in Lawrence, Kansas. During the day, he works at a digital marketing agency in the Kansas City area. When time remains, he likes to tell stories of the weird and bizarre. And sometimes, he writes them down for others to read.

2 Comments

  • Meghan Barnes says:

    I always wonder when I read a thriller, especially by an author I know: How many of these characters are real? How do you know the depths of this sociopath’s mind so intimately?

    • Kevin Wohler says:

      I guess that’s one reason why I don’t normally write from the villain’s point-of-view. Who wants to spend all that time in the mind of a whack-job? I’d need a shower after writing 1,000 words. I’ll stick with writing about heroes. It’s a comfortable role for me.

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