We all know the obvious subjects for study if you aim to be a writer: English, Literature, Language, and Creative Writing. There are also the more specific ones, like Journalism, Marketing, and Screenwriting.
But what other areas of study could we benefit from? What could enhance our writing and creation of ideas in ways these other subjects may not? Here’s my list:
This one is perhaps one of the more obvious choices. Studying history gives us insights into how societies are created and changed. How empires and civilisations work and how they fall. All about politics, world leaders, change-makers, rule-breakers, creators, wars, conflict and conflict resolution, belief systems, and so much more.
History is the documentation of life in times gone by. You don’t have to only study history if you aim to write Historical Fiction or the like. Instead, history can enrich the worlds we create and the ways they operate, making them more realistic.
Philosophy, at least to me, is both an art form and a science. It’s all about asking why and never truly accepting a definitive answer to your own question. As maddening as that may be, philosophy has always been fascinating to me. Perhaps the reason for this is because this is what writers do all the time. We come up with a character or plot that asks a question and then we go about finding that answer, often not in ways we expect.
So, by studying or brushing up on philosophical theories and perspectives, we get comfortable with asking why and exploring it. We bring depth to our stories, learn how to implement meaning artfully, and explore the biggest, most important part of the human condition: who are we really and what is the meaning of life?
I chose to study psychology at university level firstly because I thought I wanted to be a psychiatrist and help people. I still want to help people, but now I’m starting to realise that I wanted to study this subject for a different reason: I wanted to understand people.
Psychology is many things and there’s a lot of layers to this subject because humans and their minds are no easy thing to tackle. However, stripped down to the fundamentals, it is all about understanding people.
Why we are who we are, how that affects us on a daily basis, what shapes us as we go through life, and how we can be broken by life. Coming to understand these things better will help you to craft realistic and deep stories about seemingly real characters in real situations that have a real effect on them that readers can relate to.
I’m a big fan of Greek mythology, Roman mythology, and stories from other cultures. When studying these myths, legends, folklore, and tales from all over the world across all of time, we find that there are themes from these stories that have been implemented into new stories over and over again.
People may think that J.K. Rowling invented the Hippogriff creature; when in reality, it was already a mythical beast from Greek (I think) mythology.
So, if you are writing fantasy (like I do) then you cannot skip out on learning about the myths that have shaped cultures and stories for hundreds of thousands of years. It’s not just the creatures; it is the storylines, the magic, the heroes, and the beliefs that are all special and notable in storytelling to this day.
Film and TV
It should be no surprise or revelation that films and television shows are stories. They’re not consumed in the written form, but once upon a time, they were just text on a script. Even if they were never written down, films and TV shows are still special and not to be dismissed for what they bring to the art of storytelling. Yes, it’s done in a different way to novels, blog posts, or poetry, but it is beautiful storytelling and worth your time.
Whether you take a course and decide to analyse some films for yourself, I promise you that you will find benefit from exploring these stories. Who are the characters, how do they interact, what do they want, how do they go about getting it, and what’s in their way?
I loved studying Film when I was 16-18, and I will forever analyse and appreciate film and TV at a higher level than the average consumer – and you should too! As storytellers, we should be dissecting stories in all formats, for they each have something to teach us. Plus, inspiration can always be found this way, let’s not forget.
Again, this should be an obvious one. Studying science (no matter which science) can help us to understand our world and how it works on a scientific level. Knowing these things helps to enrich our world-building, keeping it logical and helping it to make sense. Not only that, but it can help to give depth to the intelligence of your characters if you yourself know the ins and outs of science as a whole.
Set yourself apart from the crowd, by showing extensive knowledge about things like Chemistry, Physics, and Biology. Allow yourself the option of being able to explore elements of life that those who don’t know science wouldn’t be able to do.
Anthropology is the study of human cultures and societies and their development. From this definition, it should be obvious what benefits us writers can get from studying such a subject.
Understanding how humans band together, develop beliefs and values and norms, and how we adapt and evolve over time is crucial to cultivating a realistic world and narrative in our novels. We can come to appreciate and understand human behaviour and what we need to be a unit; what belonging feels like and why it’s important. This is the foundation of a society, a club, or any other group of people; remember that.
Lastly, there’s sociology. Similar to anthropology, sociology is the study of the development, structure, and functioning of human society. This includes relationships, interactions, identity, culture, and more. These are important for the same reasons as studying anthropology: understanding how we band together as humans can help to enrich your storytelling, relationship dynamics, world-building, and characters.
So get a book, take a course, attend a class, or watch some awesome YouTubers talk about these subjects because I promise you, each of these has enhanced my work in ways I didn’t expect or value until later on. They will bring realism, understanding, depth, structure, meaning, nuance, creativity, magic, and more to your work without you even meaning to.
Trust me, you’ll thank me later!