Sometimes it’s easiest to explain things as a mathematical formula:
Perspective = (Experience * Consideration) + Time
A clear understanding of what’s important to a story is a function not just of personal experience, but time and considered thought. This is one of the reasons I warn college students not to write scripts about college students. They may have fresh, first-hand experience of what they’re writing about, but enough time hasn’t passed to give the story proper consideration.
But there’s more to this formula than the idea that you shouldn’t write about what happened just last weekend. Consider the number of people who sit down to write, but freeze up at the thought that they haven’t lived enough; that their personal experience is insufficient to have anything worth saying.
Look at that formula. A sense that you lack personal experience worth mining can be overcome through time and effort. That’s research. That’s writing and revising. Not every story needs to be about parachuting into occupied territory or barely surviving running with the bulls while hungover. A story about something small and relatable can have a refreshing perspective if the writer can take the time to discover a nuanced approach to the story’s telling.
And some things can’t be directly experienced. You aren’t going to have a chance to experience life on Earth in the year 3652. You weren’t a vampire in Victorian England. But the experiences you do have that can relate to those stories can be enhanced by consideration and time.
There are no set numbers attached to this formula suggesting that after x hours you’ll attain enlightenment, but it does pose a set of questions for a person looking to pursue a story idea:
- What have I experienced that relates to this story?
- What about those experiences have I examined, and how deeply?
- How long have I been living with these experiences and thoughts?