Good Writers Are Philosophers
Wikipedia defines philosophy as the study of general and fundamental problems concerning existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophers try to understand life, people, and our existence while answering the big questions. They link values together, like religion and spirituality.
Well, that is all good, but what does philosophy have to do with writing fiction? I believe all writers must be philosophers because they create something from nothing. Doing so requires a foundation, which is the essence of philosophy.
When I watch the news, I wonder about the motivations behind events. Usually, people have solid reasons for their actions, ranging from good intentions to wickedness. Of course, the reasons can take on many dimensions, for example, desiring fame.
I often think about the people around me and my fictional characters. I want to understand all aspects of their being, including motivations, decisions, and outlook. Plus, I think about myself. Why am I here? What drives my decisions?
From my philosophical knowledge base, I create characters and stories. What is the difference between applying a philosophy and making something up? It is essential to use philosophical knowledge to develop characters. For example, a bad person who kills innocent people. That will not work because readers would not be impressed with such a character without obvious motivation. Readers need details to raise a character off the page and into their minds. My “evil character” requires motives, values, morals, and history. I used examples from my life and stories I read to invent them. However, that does not explain the process.
How does a writer develop a nonexistent mind? They must imagine ethics, motives, childhood, decisions, and knowledge. This knowledge base translates to goals, wishes, and desires. Granted, not all of this information is available to the reader. For example, the source of an evil character might be a bad childhood, but that specific personality aspect might be too complex (distracting) to explain. Instead, the writer uses this imaginary element to guide their character’s decisions, dialog, and actions. The resulting character has well-defined motives, which excites the reader.
To explain this, I will examine one of my favorite characters. Grace is a pleasant, intelligent, powerful, private, and driven woman. She exists as an artist, businesswoman, and ruthless killer. What values would be required for such a character? She appreciates the finer things in life, including music, artwork, and food. She is driven to make money to experience life’s best. On the negative side, she does not value human life to the same degree as an average person. This duality makes her attractive to readers, but it requires explanation.
Grace desperately wants to be considered friendly and does her best to act pleasant. This overcompensation helps her to justify being a murderer. The result is a conflicted character who has difficulty speaking honestly about her murderous choices.
Grace exists to survive. She is the ultimate top predator, like a vampire drinking human blood. Yet, that explanation is silly. There must be more to her. To maintain sanity, Grace prays on despicable people (at least in her mind), providing unusual morals. In one area of her life, she is a pleasant businesswoman. Grace’s morals meet the definition of an honest person. On the other side, she has no regard for human life.
I spent much time developing Grace’s background, including life choices. But how? I am not a serial murderer with conflicted morals. However, to write, I had to think like one. So, I pictured an above-average woman with heightened morals and then crushed these values when she needed to kill.
Part of my philosophical process is to ask her questions mentally. The answer was based on my invented morals, values, and experiences. I think this is the ultimate extension of a philosopher. I must go beyond my experiences to create a new mind. Is this character real? Yes, because she makes decisions, and there are consequences. Of course, they are only written consequences…

You’re the best -Bill
March 27, 2019 Updated February 24, 2024

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