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Nothing Human is Alien to Me (Terence Knew)

Stella Elisei

By Stella Elisei

Nothing Human is Alien to Me (Terence Knew) by Stella Elisei

"Write what you know" is a duty...

…if you are writing an article for a peer-reviewed journal. Do not unbridle your imagination then.

But if you're writing for entertainment, I'll tell you something I know. "Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto." 

That's perhaps the most famous quote by the Latin playwright Terence. "I'm human, and I think nothing human is alien to me." Personally, I'll add that nothing extraterrestrial or mythological is alien to me, either. But that's just my taste for speculative fiction.

If you're a writer...figuring out how other people might feel and act is really the point of it, isn't it? Unless your story entails a world of clones of yourself, or you keep strictly to monologues from your own point of view (but my suggestion would be to try politics in that case), you'll have to write not-you, sooner rather than later.

Are you going to let someone say, "That's too much not-you, don't touch it"? When? With what? Gender? Race? Species? Magic powers?

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You're a writer. You're a god(dess), as far as your universe goes. So what, can you only write godly characters? That can make for an interesting story, of course. But it would be slightly limiting.

Write what you like. Even if – heck, especially if – it means moving entirely from what you experience every day. You have your whole day to mull over what happens to and around you. When else are you supposed to create entire realities, no matter how outlandish, if not when you're faced with a blank page?  

If anyone complains, just point out what should be obvious – and at least in the second century BCE, it was.

Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto.

(Thanks Terence.)

This essay originally appeared in Improbable Press' Spark newsletter; feel free to subscribe or browse our newsletter archive.
Stella Elisei (Elena at home) writes fanfiction as NovaNara and you'll find her stories on AO3 with stories also on

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