Don’t Be Afraid to Write About Ordinary People

Don’t forget about them.


Science fiction is among my favorite literary and cinematic genres. I, like many others, jump at any opportunity to be transported from my uninteresting life to something that takes my breath away. It isn’t that I wish I were in a different place in a different time. It’s just that sometimes we need to let ourselves believe, just for a little while, that there’s something amazing out there – even if we may never reach it.

There’s a small part of every reader that craves stories about extraordinary people. We all wish we could be the stereotypical superhero. We all want to believe we are capable of overcoming all our obstacles with the help of some force we may or may not have the privilege of controlling.

And while it’s true that many of these stories can be applied as metaphors to everyday life – we love that, too – I challenge you never to forget about the ordinary. The real or fictional people that do not appear special or unique in any way. There’s someone out there who needs a reminder that they are still important. They’re still capable. They still matter.

I am the kind of writer who struggles, and therefore often considers refusing, to settle into one genre of writing. I don’t think I’m capable of only writing about “normal” characters or only writing about people who are far more capable of changing the world than I will ever be. I don’t know where you stand on this, and I do understand that not every writer can support both types of characterization in all their work. But I do think we often shy away from the ordinary, because we’re afraid it’s too boring or too close to real life. Yet that’s what we know best. I hope we don’t ignore that hidden advantage.

The people we often consider “ordinary” have hidden stories waiting to be told. If you’re afraid of a story being boring because a character isn’t exciting enough, then make the story more exciting. A story can focus on characterization or it can focus on plot, or it can focus on a combination of different things. The only boring stories are the ones in which there is no character development, and there are no lessons learned, and nothing changes, and there is no emotion or reason to feel attached to a person or situation whether they exist in the real world or not.

Here’s to the ordinary people and characters, who experience extraordinary things, and change the world, even if only a little bit.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.