A dear friend who was kind enough to read the rough draft of my very first novel made a comment that is still very true of my writing today. I need to spend some time in bars and see how people really talk when they’re drinking. Now I was 18 at the time, so I had little in the way of life experience, but now 12 years later I still can’t say I’m any better qualified to write a scene in which the characters are believably drunk.
I tend to get very geeky when I’m drunk which is probably not a very good model of the population as a whole. Probably the only characteristic I share in common with people under the influence is a slightly increased use of colorful metaphors, and a decidedly increased interest in the beautiful little red haired girl (my wife in case any of you are new to the site).
Part of the problem in this particular case is that I’m still figuring out the baseline of my character, so it’s a little hard to figure out how he’s different when he’s been drinking. We all have slightly different personalities when we’ve had a few, though our drunk traits have their roots in how we are when we’re sober. In my story we’ve got a priest who’s an alcoholic saying “f— it” at the end of the world and talking about women. Most of us can probably relate.
So the obvious possibilities for getting past the block are writing this in a bar, or at home after a few pints of Guinness. This brings to mind something that all writers have to figure out at one time or another. How much can they write about things they have never really experienced? Now I’ve been drunk before, but my experience of being drunk is pretty different than the one I’m going for.
Another big one on this list is sex. I generally feel like this is one of those things you need to experience to write about well. Whether or not you choose to be explicit or Victorian is up to you, but even euphemism comes from basic understanding. But even someone who’s had great sex might not be able to write about all kinds of sex in all kinds of circumstances. As writers we have to have some basic ability to put ourselves in circumstances we can never experience. I’m probably never going to space, and it’s even less likely that I’ll commit a murder, so I kind of have to figure out how to get into the minds of characters who would do these things without doing them myself.
But even things we can experience can be tricky to get a hold of. Ultimately it takes spending time with your characters and knowing when to take a break and live to write another day. Maybe try to figure out some good source material to review, a scene that does something similar to what you want to accomplish. And maybe a little liquid libation will loosen the literary logjam.
I swear to you all I’m drinking right now is lemon-lime.
What do you talk about when you’re drunk?