To Write Quality Fiction, Read More Non-Fiction
You're banging away at your story when you realize that one of your characters is a crack addict. Funny thing is, you didn't even see it coming, but now that you have there is absolutely no way around it. Unfortunately, (and very fortunately) you do not know any actual crack addicts, so your character is superficial and your dialogue keeps coming across as hollow and stereotypical.
So what can you do?
Option 1: Go find someone addicted to crack cocaine and interview them.
Option 2: Research your character by reading some non-fiction accounts of the trials and tribulations of the substance addicted.
It's up to you which way to go, but we recommend option two as it is going to be cheaper, safer and can be done from the comfort of your writing desk.
Carrying on with our earlier example, we searched for “crack” on Amazon and perused the genres of Self-Help, Biographies & Memoirs and Politics & Social Sciences:
1. This first returned Diary of a Crack Addict’s Wife, the story of a woman living and raising her children with a crack-addicted spouse. The synopsis sounds very touchy-feely, but this could offer great insight into the emotional roller coaster that drug users and their families experience. One layer of reality to inspire you.
2. Next up, we have Nobody Puts Crack Baby in a Corner. Just from the title we can tell that this story is going to be tougher and more tongue-in-cheek. It’s about the life of an adopted child who is raised in Southern California. Again, another layer of personal and social struggle from a completely different viewpoint.
3. Crack is a book published by a drug abuse prevention library and is a more scientific/educational piece. This could be useful to familiarize yourself with hard facts and also the tone of the literature attempting to sway people away from drug use.
4. In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio is an ethnographic study done by an anthropologist in East Harlem. Again, a completely different perspective. Academic writers are going to be less likely to glorify and emotionalize their experiences and can offer clearer reflection of what is actually occurring within a specific community.
A quick search can lead you to the, sometimes hours of, background reading, on nearly any topic, that will guide and shape your characters. Maybe they will change completely. Maybe you will realize a different lifestyle would suit them better. Either way you will gain immense amounts of background that lends itself perfectly to poignant dialogue. When you really know your character he/she will simply flow on to the page.