Hi gang, Craig here today. One thing good fiction requires is a bit of turmoil. Your main character has to have something unsettling going on in his or her life. I write speculative fiction, so it’s fairly easy to give an example or two.

I could dive right into an alien invasion or zombie apocalypse and have all the turmoil I need. In these examples it’s something the main character never wanted, but now has to come to grips with, maybe even defeat.

Something unwanted might apply in a more realistic setting when settlers have to flee an Indian uprising, or survive a starvation winter because the ships didn’t come.

There are also divorces, loss of employment, sick children, that kind of thing.

Another form of turmoil involves getting what you want, but it turns out to be problematic. Think about that new marriage that leads to her entire family moving in with you.

Shame is a good one, too. People will go to unfathomable depths to keep something from becoming widely known. Caesar has epilepsy, kill everyone who knows, etc. In a modern setting, maybe it’s social media postings from years ago that could be targeted in our current environment.

In all these cases, someone has something going on they would rather not have to deal with. That could be putting it mildly, but there you have it.

That was a long lead in, to get where I’m going today. There is an old piece of writing advice: Write what you know. People often misunderstand and ask questions like, “How can you know about a haunted house?”

You can’t, or can you? But that’s not what the advice means. What I do know about is turmoil. How will people act when put in the crucible? Some will break, some will survive, a few will excel.

Welcome to the modern world. We have a deadly virus all over the globe, and you’ve seen all the absurd things people are doing. They’re attacking each other in some cases because someone is wearing personal protective equipment, in other cases because they aren’t.

There is political and social unrest, and we have rioting in the streets. We’re destroying works of art just like when other cultures burned books.

I’m not going to turn this into a tantrum, but I could. This is Story Empire, and we want to offer you something useful here.

The point is that you know turmoil. You’re living it. You’re neck deep in it right now. Observe the people around you, or on social media. This is how characters might act during an alien invasion. This is how your characters might feel under similar circumstances.

Maybe you have more personal experience to draw from. Think about that acid reflux in the middle of the night because you have a loved one in a nursing home that is currently locked down. You can use that in a story, even if it’s a different set of circumstances.

Give a thought to the unemployed person who used to work at a Wendy’s restaurant that got burned to the ground. How might they feel this morning when the rent comes due.

Maybe your eight-year-old is late coming home from school, and the riot is right outside your apartment building. This is stress and turmoil.

There are equipment operators who got called upon to dig a lot of graves in the last few months. This isn’t the same as installing culverts. Maybe there is some PTSD they have to deal with. Maybe it sparks them to take up a cause where they can do some real good.

There are stories to be written based upon what we’re observing right now. These can be real world, speculative environment, or historical. I’m not talking about stories that include a virus either, only about how people react under stressful times. Apply this to your own work and see if it makes it better.

47 thoughts on “Turmoil

  1. Pingback: Advice? Do I have any? – Judi Lynn

  2. Thank you, Craig. You’ve offered great examples of turmoil and showed us how to tie into our own experience with this ongoing mess. Much appreciated.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fabulous post, Craig! Every story needs a good amount of tension to keep those readers turning the pages and both internal and external turmoil will get the job done. You are so right about the turmoil we’re living in today. We have a lot to work with. Excellent points!😊

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  4. Emotional turmoil is always my favourite turmoil to subject characters to. One fan of my fanfiction series of a few years ago nicknamed me the ‘the writer-queen of dark doom and gloom’ because of all the emotional turmoil I like to put my characters through. I quite like the moniker actually 🙂

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  5. I used to think that “write what you know” meant falling back on my own life experiences or subjects I was knowledgeable about. Then I thought, I’ll just research subjects that interest me to become knowledgeable—missing what was staring me in the face the whole time.
    Your haunted house example is an excellent one to illustrate the point.

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  6. Excellent points, Craig. Write what you know, but add your twist. That will make your work interesting. I like learning new things, so I don’t mind doing a bit of research. Turns out, you can learn a lot and put it to good use.

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  7. A great post, Craig. You have expressed this idea very well. The USA certainly seems to be in a state of turmoil at the moment, but there are issues everywhere. There is a say that when poverty comes in at the door, love flies out the window and I think that applies to the financial state of the world right now.

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  8. Turmoil is all around us like you said, Craig. We do have plenty to work from unfortunately. But adding our experience or observations certainly adds more depth to our work. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Excellent post, Craig. Turmoil is the stuff of great story tension. Sometimes it can be below the surface or right out there for everyone to experience. The core of “Write What You Know” has to be the ability of the writer to take an unknown situation and apply known feelings and experiences.

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  10. This is a great post, Craig! Today’s angst is certainly providing us all with plenty of fodder. The more we can tap into the experiences that people are having (and how they deal with them), the better our writing will be. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. You speak the truth, Craig. Or stories must have turmoil in order to move forward and overcome, or as you say, crumble. 🙂 We certainly have enough reality to draw from right now. I like the way you took common situations and turned the volume up to create even more stressful situations, based on our current world climate. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Reblogged this on The Write Stuff and commented:

    C. S. Boyack has a great post on Story Empire today on using turmoil to “write what you know.” We are living in turbulent times, for sure, and our own emotion-filled reactions to that can be used to help us create fictional characters facing turmoil of all sorts in our writing. The cause of the fictional turmoil isn’t as important for that as the human reaction to it is. Check out the post to learn more about how this can work to make you a better writer, and please consider passing it along to others, as well. Thanks, and thanks to Craig for making us think about positive ways to use negative feelings. Well done, Craig! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Super ideas on using pain and stress we’ve actually experienced to create believable pain and stress for our fictional characters. I agree, the situation doesn’t have to be the same (though it could be), but it’s the human reaction to fear, anger, frustration, loss of loved ones–all of the above–that a writer wants to capture. And pulling on your own reaction to various types of turmoil is a great place to start. For instance, it doesn’t matter if you’re trapped in your house due to fear of catching a deadly virus or fear of a demon-cursed evil wizard (think Voldemort) on a rampage in your neighborhood. The emotional trauma that comes with being afraid of something you don’t understand is the same.

    Good advice, Craig! Sharing! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  14. It took me a while to realize that Write what you know didn’t mean that you had to experience it. It meant you knew how people would feel and react when they experienced it. And we’ve all run the gamut of emotions, so we know what would push a person’s buttons to do something he normally wouldn’t do. Enjoyed this post. We have lots of emotions to draw on this year.

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  15. This year certainly has enough turmoil to draw upon. I’ve heard that write what you know advice and agree to a point. Then again, if we only wrote what we know, our writing would never expand. I used to hate research but the more I write, the more I want to learn new things.

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  16. Great post, Craig.
    The write what you know reminds me of a scene I wrote in FALLOUT where two guys had to wait a long time for a lift on the space ship due to it being peak movement time. Obviously, I’ve never been on a space ship, but I have been on a cruise ship and so I took what I knew from that experience and peak lift usuage times and transplanted it onto a space craft.
    I love your clear examples on how to use your pain, turmoil, and stress responses from real life in our fiction.

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  17. Fiction is all about turmoil. “Once upon a time, everyone lived happily ever after,” is a pretty boring tale. I love that you suggest using real world experiences in different ways in fiction. That’s putting your pain to good use.

    I’ve heard people counter the saying “write what you know” with the phrase “write what you want to know.” But I think that statement is directed to research-obsessed people like me. Totally different approach to the idiom.

    Great post, Craig.

    Liked by 3 people

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