Adding Your Interests to Your Writing

Intentional or osmosis, plots to fine details, your interests, hobbies, areas of academic study, and every aspect of your life shape your story. Unavoidable, it must be handled with care to gain maximum impact while acknowledging the common pitfalls.

I’m writing a long piece about an army officer which is influenced by my interest in military history. It’s an easy trapping to chalk up every detail and explanation of his experiences in the army to the fruits of my years of research and observations. But if I added everything I could say about warfare the story would be twice as long and half as interesting.

There’s no justification to regurgitate a decade’s plus information where the sources did so in a more focused, efficient, communicative way. Military history interests me for whatever Freudian or greater psychological reason is at play, but that doesn’t mean anyone reading my story will keep their eyes open past the first explanation of the effects of fouling where the burnt black powder from a discharged muzzle loaded, smoothbore rifle cakes onto the barrel in layers like cholesterol on a heart valve blocking the ammunition from being pushed into the bottom of the barrel without extreme force up to throwing the ramrod against a tree after an hour’s worth of continuous fire. I could go on and on.

When your interests enter the story, treat them with the sharp edge applied to every other story element. Cut what doesn’t progress the story, show don’t tell, make it accessible to the audience, entertain, characterize, build tension, etc.

If you know a lot about yachts and wish to add them to the story, explain the locations and layouts of the different rooms and compartments so the audience understands the environment. Say it’s a murder mystery, knowing which rooms connect to the murder room (who was in them, what was in them) lets the reader engage with their theories. Show the operation and explain the equipment’s limitations to establish breaking points and dangers, the tension framework for the looming storm.

It’s a sad fact in a lonely world but not everyone shares all your interests. Three cheers for freewill and individuality, but you can’t expect everyone to care about human migratory patterns on the same level as you do. If you talk about your interests either keep it general and dispersed or have a strong reason to get granular.

I like curry. A well-delivered curry recipe will gain the readers’ stomachs as the rest of the scene plays out. Fuel lines on a World War 2 era aircraft carrier ignite furiously unless flooded with CO₂. Have the point about CO₂ explained in an early classroom scene while focusing on the student characters talking amongst themselves establishing relationships and characterizing themselves. Later, show an enemy carrier (which doesn’t flood its lines with CO₂) being struck by an incendiary bomb, the flames killing the men below deck. Have those same characters work below deck as bombs drop onto their carrier, but the valve to release the CO₂ gets stuck. Flood the fuel lines with CO₂ — save the people we care about.

If the interest is the focal point, it provides the writer a strong tether when constructing plot. A lawyer wouldn’t have to do much research to write a convincing legal drama knowing the ins and outs of the judicial process. The focus can then be directed to characters, pacing, establishing narrative stakes, and all the other story elements. If the interests come as a passing reference, they can be used as a potent spice. Flesh out a 19th century British home’s furnishings, describe many varied hair styles reflecting each character’s personality, chose the best painting to match the emotions of a woman during a harsh breakup.

Splitting the middle on the interest’s importance can unbalance the story. The protagonist may need to have an apprenticeship to become a chivalric knight but the story can’t be 10% background and inciting incident, 10% using the skills obtained from the apprenticeship to achieve their goals, and 80% details about how chivalric knights are groomed and the system’s greater history. It shouldn’t even be 10%. The difference in attention and detail to one aspect causes narrative whiplash to the rest of the story and makes the reader wonder why such effort couldn’t be spent everywhere else. Go further and it tips toward fetishistic.

To make a grand point beyond writing, obtaining varied and fun interests beyond the page lends autonomous aid to the craft. I’ve long held the anecdote of the metal musician whose favorite music is metal, whose inspiration is metal, whose fashion sense is metal, etc.

“What’s the general thesis statement of your music?”

“My thesis is, how metal could metal metal if metal could metal metal?”

I like metal but my trench doesn’t surpass the Mariana’s.

Go beyond reading and writing. I write short stories based on songs. I add whatever I’m cooking onto the character’s dinner table. In that army officer’s story, I had him recite a fact about the way tree branches grow in order to convince a prince to get down from a tree. If drama is life with the dull bits cut out and comedy is tragedy plus timing, then these things must be experienced to then bring to a story. Whatever you enjoy doing will find its way into your stories, you just have to be there for it.

One thought on “Adding Your Interests to Your Writing

  1. Lol, this reminds me of George R.R Martin focusing so much on the food and sigils because he likes those stuff, and some of his critics called him out on it, but he basically said screw them. I myself have seen my hobbies enter my stories, such as climbing and running, so I can totally relate. Thanks for sharing, Colin!


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