Writers are often told “write what you know” but if I wrote only about what I had firsthand experience with, I’d have put down my pen years ago. So I borrow other people’s firsthand experiences.
But don’t worry about me engaging in any criminal business. When I borrow, it’s perfectly legal and (sort of) honorable and you, too, can benefit from the resource I use. To wit, advice columns.
I love advice columns! And lucky for me, there are A LOT of advice columns out in the world. Which honestly, have come a long way from the days when I was a teenager reading “Dear Abby” in the daily newspaper.
But there’s one constant with these columns: they’re still mostly about love and the complications of (mostly human) relationships. So they’re the perfect place for me to hang out, because my firsthand experience with love and such is a little outdated. Though admittedly, there are aspects of relationships that stay the same. Take jealousy, for example. I mean, a scorned lover scenario, whether from biblical days or yesterday, often plays out the same way in the big picture.
It’s the juicy little details that I can’t get enough of and the columns are chock full of ‘em. I discover new and interesting ways for people to cheat or connect or canoodle. (Does anyone say canoodle anymore? You can see why I need current info). And before I read the advice given, I will offer my own opinion and then check to see what Ann or Amy or Archie has to say.
I find these columnists are often more compassionate than I am. When “Just Wondering” asks if her boyfriend of five years may be up to something with her best friend whose semi-nude picture just happens to pop up on said boyfriend’s phone, I shout, “Dump the bum!” But not our columnists. Their advice is almost always couched in kindness: “You may want to have an honest conversation with your BF.” Or, “There may be a reasonable explanation for this photo. Choose a quiet time to discuss your concerns. And get tested for STDs.” Occasionally, (and I’ll admit these are my favorite columnists) I’ll see a “Don’t wonder anymore. Move out and move on. And get tested for STDs.”
Anyway, the point is, as a writer of adult fiction, the authenticity of details of human relationships add depth to story. But discretion compels me to leave out my own or any (living) relatives’ peccadillos or even friends’ salacious secrets. So the anonymity of the advice columns is perfect!
Also, and this is no small thing, I find A LOT of ideas in the columns that can jumpstart an entire plot. They’ll work for a thriller, a comedy, or a romance. And as an added bonus, you can get a little closure, if only in your imagination.
Sometimes, it’s comeuppance I dish out and other times, it’s happy-ever-afters. The high school sweethearts can find love again, 50 years on; the May-December relationship works out delightfully despite the nasty gold-digging comments from all the family. And cheating boyfriends always get kicked to the curb.
Unless I’m writing a murder mystery. That’s where looking for love in all the wrong places can end very, very badly.
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