Writing about the ordinary, in a way that makes it interesting, is something I think requires a certain set of experiences. Or, at the very least, the experience of having already found intrigue and excitement in the ordinary.
I thought about this the other day, when I realised that most of the books I’ve been reading, the shows I’ve been watching… they all have fundamental differences to the real world: magic, Greek gods, a dystopian parallel world-type element – something that makes it distinctly other to that which we see as normal.
It made me start to wonder why. Why is it that the majority of popular pieces of fiction – be it screenplays, books, whatever – aren’t about the world that we live in? Surely it would make sense to write about that which you know, following the age-old edict. Using experience is one of those things you just assume every writer does.
I’ll admit, it didn’t take me too long to figure out an answer. People tend not to write about the ordinary, or the ordinary world, because for the majority of us, there isn’t anything worth writing about. We wake up in the morning, go to school, or work. We come home, we eat, we go to bed. Occasionally we might break the rota, we might go out at weekends and gain a funny anecdote, but it wouldn’t exactly make for a thrilling novel.
Most of us take delight in fiction set in other worlds, parallel universes, mirrored societies with fundamental differences, because it lifts us out of the world we find boring, or frustrating, or in some way just not stimulating enough.
I feel like, in order to write something entirely based in the ordinary – in everyday life, everyday jobs, everyday relationships – the person writing it must have had the experience of really finding value in their ordinary life. And that seems like something I haven’t come across much in my life, short as it may have been so far. I’ve grown up and lived in the same few streets my entire life. I’ve been to two schools – three if you count preschool. I’ve known a very narrow range of people, most of whom live within a few minutes of my house. And sure, I’ve had some amazing experiences, but they’ve been just that: amazing. Out of the ordinary.
It’s definitely possible to write about the ordinary in ways we’d enjoy. Some of the best classics are entirely normal: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is nothing more than a tale of classes and relationships, especially when it was published. It’s gained that strange quality things from another time do, now it’s been so long since it was published, but Austen wrote about the value she found in the ordinary. The same goes for Mrs Dalloway, one of Woolf’s most famous novels. And I’m sure there are plenty more, but wherever I look, it seems they are far outnumbered by the extraordinary, the fantastic, the magical.
Maybe that’s not a bad thing. It doesn’t have to be, that’s for sure. But I’d like to look out for the value in the ordinary. It can have a certain charm to it that just doesn’t come from separating our world and another.