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I was talking with some writers, and they were mentioning how writing is fundamentally about "the human condition, our take on it, what we see in our world and experience. All stories, no matter the genre, are people stories. We're always writing about the human condition, our take on it, what we see in our world and experience. Every time you sit down to write you must answer to yourself the following question: how will what I'm writing today help me to illuminate and illustrate my observations about the human condition? If you don't understand the human condition you don't know why you are writing, and in that case writing is typically a waste of creative energy".

This is a big problem for me, because I don't really get the human condition to begin with. My entire life can be described as only viewing humanity from a distance as an outsider looking in. To start off, I am a high-functioning autistic, so my perspective is already warped. Growing up I had next to no circle of friends, and the few people I did hang around were abusive and toxic. The same was true of college, and even today I don't have people I have strong emotional connections to. Not because I am autistic, but because I got burned so many times I just taught myself to stop feeling. I work in a job that requires minimal social interaction. I have never had any romantic relationships besides one-sided crushes from afar that I never acted on. I'm not religious. I intentionally have next to no Internet presence: I do not use social media, I do not frequent forums, I do not belong to any fan communities, I have no Internet friends, etc. My parents were dysfunctional and a bit emotionally abusive, and while I've come to realize their behavior is not what a normal adult should behave like, I have little baseline for what people should behave like. I have no siblings, and I have no relatives that I see on a regular basis. I've learned to be hyper-independent because I've largely learned that other people are untrustworthy and can't be relied upon.

I'm not trying to spin a sob story, my broader point is that I have no point of context about "the human condition" because the lifelines for which one typically learns about the human condition are not present in my life. About my only guide for how people actually behave is anime and television, which most would agree is…not the most reliable perspective for understanding human behavior. Even when these works do try to ape human interaction, they often do so in a way that is played for drama or otherwise overly idealistic or cynical in keeping with the nature of a story.

The really big issue is that an author is generally expected to know more than the reader in order to maintain a sense of verisimilitude, and if your readers understand human emotions and "the human condition" better than you do as an author you're playing at a disadvantage. It's easy to write about things that people have no frame of reference for, but it's harder to write about something that theoretically most readers know something about.

Now, I'm not trying to play into stereotypes of autistic people being emotionless or clueless, saying "I don't understand humanity" is a bit hyperbolic. I understand human motivations quite well, and in fact because of my status as an outsider looking in I've often been able to pick up when people are lying to themselves or others about the real, often self-centered reasoning behind their motivations even when other people aren't. Honestly given what I've seen about humanity I kind of dislike people in general.

What I lack is a visceral understanding of how it feels to be in these positions rather than merely as a third-party observer, and the lived experiences that writers draw on in order to make their characters and storytelling feel real to the audience. E.g., struggling to write romantic interactions between characters because I've never dated or romantically interacted with someone. Or writing about a teenage character working a soul-sucking temp job at a fast-food restaurant because I've never worked such a job nor know someone who has. Or writing a story that I intended to have an uplifting message about human nature and not sabotaging it with my own nihlism and cynicism. Or drawing on real-life friendships to show emotional bonds between characters. Writing is fundamentally about having the character's emotions resonate with the readers, even if one is writing from a third-party perspective.

I've had people tell me that "well, if you struggle to understand humanity so much, why don't you just write alien characters or ones that are otherwise non-human", and use your perspective to inform that. However, the broader issue with that is even aliens and other non-human characters invariably have some sort of social structure because social interactions are what make fiction interesting (especially non-television, non-movie fiction since visual spectacle is limited). Vulcans in Star Trek may be hyper-logical and vampires in Vampire: The Masquerade are antisocial, but they still have a society. Not to mention every character can't behave this way.

Given this, how does one write a story about human interaction and "the human condition" (as pretty much all character-driven works of fiction are) when they have no baseline to compare it to or draw from?

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    As people have already said, you are also human, and you are also experiencing the "human condition", just a slightly different flavour than many (but also the same as many). Anyway, this question reminds me of the book "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time", which is exactly a nice portrait of the human condiditon from a slightly diffent angle than usual.
    – epa095
    Feb 15 at 10:02
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    "This is a big problem for me, because I don't really get the human condition to begin with." That is the human condition. Feb 15 at 18:04
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    I'm gonna say the cliche message that everyone else has said, but maybe in a different way. YOUR condition is a human condition, and it's an interesting one that you can use to your advantage, rather than thinking it holds you back. Write about your condition. You say Honestly given what I've seen about humanity I kind of dislike people in general. There's a market for that.
    – TKoL
    Feb 16 at 17:51
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    And there's markets for writing from the pov of an outsider too.
    – TKoL
    Feb 16 at 17:52
  • I can't connect with people whom think that "whom" is still part of modern English grammar. (People in the USA seem to like it, but then they also use 400-year-old words like "gotten" that the rest of the English speaking work dumped centuries ago...)
    – alephzero
    Feb 17 at 17:54

11 Answers 11

16

Jihad:

Writing is about the human condition. But the human condition is a big, messed up gnarly thing - and guess what, if you're human, you're living it. Fiction is rarely about people with nice, stable well-adjusted lives who understand themselves and others, get along well, and are generally happy. Jihad doesn't usually mean "holy war" but actually means "struggle" and is usually internal. So if you write what you know, and your life is screwed up, then you have the first prerequisite of a writer. People want to read about what they AREN'T, and they want characters who can do what they can't, while experiencing things the reader doesn't want to.

I often hear people say you should make your characters cool and give them things people want, and people will want to be them. That's a load of crap. They want to be cool, yes - they want to experience things they don't in their normal life. But no matter how cool Mad Max is in The Road Warrior, I guarantee everyone watching it wants to sit in their living room with a bowl of popcorn rather than fight for survival in a post-apocalyptic waste land. You might love the replicants from the Blade Runner movies, but I seriously question anyone who wants to be a hated minority persecuted and hunted for just living. Yet these are the kinds of characters people love to read and watch.

Even characters like superman are a reflection of persecution and misery. The guy who came up with Superman was a Jewish guy who hated having to be meek, mild, and fit in - he lived the life of Clark Kent, but longed for more. But again, notice that Superman's personal life was pretty screwed up.

I am truly inspired in my writing when I'm meanest to my characters. Great drama is suffering and misery. I give my characters powers or good things just to balance out some of the crap I put them through. And remember you're writing what you know. I am reasonably sure I'm an undiagnosed Autistic, but you get to adapt as life goes on. That just means you think differently. I understand how other people should behave in a story better than I understand why people I know do what they do. In fiction, I get to control what they do, and their emotions are what I make of them.

Similarly, my writing didn't move to the next level until my parents were both murdered. The trial is still ongoing, so there's a limit to what I can discuss. There are so many levels of screwed up to that, I can only express it in the disfunction of fictional characters. So a broken life is just the ability to relate to screwed up that normal people can't do (except vicariously through your writing).

As to society, remember, as an introvert, you can sit outside your fictional culture and play God. It exists wholly in your imagination. I do agree that sci-fi/fantasy is a great place to be: not because you can inform alien cultures with your thinking, but that if you screw up, no one notices. "Oh, that's just the way people in that time/of that place/who are merfolk act and think!" Imagine what it would be like to be religious, and if you miss the mark, it's a fictional religion. Make the characters genetically engineered, and if their personality comes off quirky, they aren't fully human or that's "voice." If the girl falls for the guy, it's because you willed it to be, not because your MC was somehow charming. Guess what? Your readers are probably sitting at home reading instead of going out on dates. They want your MC to get the girl because they aren't.

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    What a depressingly true last line. Feb 15 at 8:46
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This is a big problem for me, because I don't really get the human condition to begin with.

If you are human, then whatever your experience is by definition part of the human condition. The human condition does not refer to things that all humans experience. It refers to all things that (some) humans experience.

My entire life can be described as only viewing humanity from a distance as an outsider looking in.

As established, this outsider view is therefore itself part of the human condition. If this is all you know, and you struggle putting yourself in other people's positions, then you are still able to write about your human condition.

This outsider life you refer to is not that uncommon as you might think. Sherlock Holmes, Spock (and Vulcans in general), C3P0, the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz, ... They were all in some way unable to connect to the world around them, and lived more in their heads than in the moment.

I'm not saying you're going to be the next Conan Doyle or Gene Roddenberry, but the point remains that even your own human condition can be turned into a narrative. Depending on what spin want to put on it, tropes such as The Spock or Tin Man are very relevant sources here.

I have no point of context about "the human condition" because the lifelines for which one typically learns about the human condition are not present in my life

The collective human condition contains opposite entries. One human condition is about always having many friends. Another is having about never having any friends. Logically, a single person can't experience both.

This cycles back to the earlier point: your experience is inherently part of the human condition. Living your life without any "lifelines for which one typically learns about the human condition" is, in and of itself, one entry in the collection that is the human condition. And since this is what you live, it's what you know.

The really big issue is that an author is generally expected to know more than the reader in order to maintain a sense of verisimilitude, and if your readers understand human emotions and "the human condition" better than you do as an author you're playing at a disadvantage.

I disagree. It's not about knowing more, it's about keeping your story relatable to the reader. That doesn't mean you need to know more. Not every story is about having the reader lag behind the author. But this is a spectrum.

As an example where the reader is expected to lag behind the author, A Song Of Ice And Fire very much plays to the idea that the reader will intuitively oversimplify things, and the plot will surprise the reader by being deeper and more nuanced than they expected it to be.

As an example of the opposite, children's media specifically plays to their target demographic already knowing what's going to happen, and derive enjoyment from experiencing something they're comfortable with. This isn't limited to children's media. Anyone who likes rewatching movies or rereading stories even when they know them by heart experiences the same kind of enjoyment.

You could even argue that what some people refer to as rehashed storylines (e.g. how people complain about the lack of innovation in "The Fast & The Furious", or "Rocky) is really just a way to provide entertainment to a target audience that likes knowing where the story will take them.

It's not about right and wrong, it's about a different kind of enjoyment for a different kind of target demographic. Some people like being on the cutting edge, others like a more comfortable setting. We're all different, and that's sort of the essence of the human condition.

E.g., struggling to write romantic interactions between characters because I've never dated or romantically interacted with someone. Or writing about a teenage character working a soul-sucking temp job at a fast-food restaurant because I've never worked such a job nor know someone who has. Or writing a story that I intended to have an uplifting message about human nature and not sabotaging it with my own nihlism and cynicism.

I think you're getting things twisted around. Not every person can write about every possible human condition. I wouldn't know how to write a story from the perspective of an elderly black woman living in the 19th century, since none of those descriptors apply to me and I have no intimate knowledge about these people's lives.

There are several ways you can learn about the human condition:

  • Genuine personal experience (i.e. your own life)
  • Artificial personal experience (i.e. what method actors do)
  • An innate talent of empathy and imagination (i.e. what makes people empaths)
  • A close personal friend/connection who you know well and can relate to
  • Talking to/interviewing people who have more experience in it than you do
  • Deep-dive research, e.g. psychological papers.

But in the end, you're not forced to do any of these. If you don't know how to write about A, then why try and force yourself to write about A? It's okay to stick to what you know.

If you want to expand your horizon beyond what you know, go for it. Go out there and do research. Research it in the way that you like learning things. Whether that's practical experience, interviewing people, deep-dive research, literature on psychology, ... The world is your oyster.

A lot of writers specifically like exploring viewpoints that are not their own. Arthur Conan Doyle, famous for writing one of the most coldly logical fictional characters (i.e. Sherlock Holmes), was actually quite the opposite: he believes in literal fairies and advocated for the existence of spiritualism (i.e. the dead communication to the living, seances, ...)

I'm not going to guess why Doyle chose to write about a character like Sherlock who is so outspoken about his opinions and who at his very core disagrees with Doyle's own opinions, but it highlights the fact that Doyle specifically chose to explore a different point of view to his own.

But maybe that's not you. Maybe you like staying closer to home, figuratively speaking. And that's okay too. In a sense, Doyle still wrote stories that were rooted in his own local culture. So in a sense, he also stayed close to home.
Maybe you feel more comfortable relating to a human condition you know, but are more willing to explore this human condition in a completely different setting. That's perfectly fine too.

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    "If you are human, then whatever your experience is by definition part of the human condition." This! Feb 15 at 14:17
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What you've been told is true... From a certain point of view

Stories are interesting because they are about people, and people are interested in people and the relationships between them. However, this does not mean you have to understand more than others how human interactions work to write an interesting story. Not exactly, anyway.

You reference watching anime and television, and remark that those are not a good guide to how human interactions actually work - which is interesting, because people wrote those things, and you are consuming them. It is "successful" in the sense that it is appealing and sells, even if it is not realistic. So while it may be desirable to you for what you write to be realistic, realism is not necessarily "the thing" which "people" want in a story.

Write about doughnuts

I came up with a metaphor a few years ago, to think about entertainment and stories and writing. People like sweet things, because most sweet things in nature are edible and nutritious, and there's an evolutionary advantage to wanting to have more of things that are sweet. People like fatty-tasting things, because most of the fatty-tasting things found in nature are edible and a good source of dense calories. Again, there's an advantage to craving fattiness, especially for our distant ancestors, who had to struggle and work to get enough to eat.

Doughnuts (and many other popular, largely unhealthy foods) cater to our cravings for things that are sweet, our craving for something fatty, and other innate cravings. (Saltiness gets in there, too!) Basically, doughnuts skip the extra work of fresh fruit, meat, and whatever other highly-rewarding basic foodstuffs and just give us all the things our bodies use to identify "this is probably a good thing to eat". Doughnuts capitalize on the difference between what we actually need, and the short cut indicators we use to identify whether we're getting what we need. Some writing is like doughnuts.

Not everyone likes doughnuts though - or at least, they don't want to eat only doughnuts. I make homemade bread, with a fair bit of home-ground whole wheat flour in it. And it's good. (Not doughnuts good, but good. Better, if it's what you're in the mood for.) Unlike doughnuts, you don't start feeling ill if you eat mostly whole wheat bread for several meals in a row. It isn't a sufficient answer to just say, "These are the appetites people have, so pander to them." And yet, there are appetites people have; pander to them a bit. It isn't the highly realistic corner of a house or handful of soil that people want, it's doughnuts. (Or homemade bread, or a salad... Something edible more than something "realistic".)

Write what you know

On the other hand, most people do indeed want a story to "feel" believable. That superhero movie, about someone flying through the sky and being indestructible, it's better if it feels somewhat realistic. People do indeed want a narrative with meaning (though real life doesn't actually have an innate narrative!), and characters that feel like people. So that is where you use imagination. Not just anything you can imagination; you write based on what you have experienced, and based on what seems reasonable to you that other people's experiences would be like.

Sometimes, doughnut-like, that buff guy or cute girl will get a crush on the protagonist simply because that's what you the author, wants. There's not any logic or reason for the crush; "These things just happen sometimes. Or at least, wouldn't it be great if the lead cheerleader DID fall for the nerdy, bookish guy?" But if you're not content with that, and you want a slightly less self-serving and confection-ish tale, think from the point of view of the buff guy or cute girl.

"But, that's exactly the problem," you might say. "That isn't what I know. We've gotten exactly to the part that I'm getting stuck and can't move forward." Well, maybe we really are stuck there. And then again, maybe not. People do things for reasons, and you can imagine how you might behave in their place. The key thing is to really try to put yourself in the other person's shoes. "That nerdy guy, across the classroom, keeps looking up from his book and stealing glances at me. That's not strange, though; I have dozens of guys who are interested in me, and he's no different from a dozen others. But... I'm used to it. I'll just ignore him, like I ignore most of the others." Well, at that point you don't have a story yet, but you at least have a point of view.

The story starts when you think of a reason the cheerleader might actually be interested in that boy, after all. Or whatever it is that gets the story rolling.

The point, though is that other people have motivations, just like you. Like you, other people do what they think they can get away with (if they're relatively selfish), or what they think they ought to do (when they're feeling relatively less selfish). And the collisions between different people, and different motivations, makes the conflict that makes a story interesting. But you already know something about conflict, right? Life is difficult, and full of disappointments and people who aren't just falling in line with what you want, or what you think is reasonable. You know about that. Now look at things from their point of view (as best as you can manage). Try to think of good reasons why other people behave the way they do towards you, or towards each other. You've lived plenty of life, and probably not in an isolated cabin on a mountain top.

If you really don't know people, study people; they're all around you!

Okay, so in the middle of a global pandemic, this trite piece of advice is a little more of a stretch than it usually is. But if you work in an office, listen to other people's conversations. (Not to gossip about! But listen when people gossip.) If you're on public transportation, and someone's talking on a phone, listen to that. Can you figure out who are they talking to, or what are they talking about? If you're included in an email thread at work, or a family thread on your phone... People do their people-ing all over the place, and you can watch it unfold, unobtrusively, and learn from it.

If you've got the nerve, you might even talk to them yourself.

If you're really motivated to write about people (and it's fine if that's not actually what you want to do), this is advice that normal writers give to other normal writers.

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Maybe you are trying to write a type of story (Feelgood?) where your natural tendency to cynicism about humans would be a bad thing? How about trying something darker? E.g. Thomas Harris's "Silence of the Lambs" and his other books come to mind...

But there's also much literature that doesn't go deep into the human mind. E.g. action, thriller, crime, even sci-fi... erotica... even the big names in these genres sometimes land in a "schoolboy" (or "schoolgirl") level of psychology. And the multilayered human condition of police detectives and their personal lives are turning into cliché.

That said...

My situation resembles yours very much. Similar diagnoses, very few friends, a feeling of being outside the box, etc.

I'm quite sure being able to think outside of the box is my superpower. It seems I can easily do what others have a hard time doing... that's a unique perspective and one of the key aspects in my writing, a sense that the world needs my different perspective and that I may be able to give something to the world no one else can...

However, being humans, we're both, of course, part of that human condition. Just not the vanilla edition... Who says normal gets to define what the human condition should be? (E.g. make your main character a person with high-functioning autism and give only them POV...)

One big problem for people with diagnoses could be that we have no clue what possible diagnoses people decades or centuries before us had since many modern diagnoses didn't exist back then...

There are examples of authors going through hellish conditions to write or disappearing from the literary stage, due to self-medication, suicide, or just not being able to write another book. Neuropsychological diagnoses might be much more common than we think... maybe they're even a requirement?

Another key aspect of my process of writing is that I have an interest in understanding people. I've made it into a science. (A purely observational one, I've known people, most likely psychopaths, that manipulated and experimented with others...)

Watching TV and movies, and reading books is another key aspect. I've probably watched years worth of TV and movies, and I've watched everything. I wouldn't be surprised if it broke some algorithms. ;)

This has given me a sense of people, and story.

Reading lots of books, fictional and on the craft of writing, has given me a sense of how to get people and story down on paper.

I use psychology and I'm especially fond of personality psychology (mostly FFM and its variations). You can create some very interesting characters... for instance an extrovert, neat freak, non-neurotic, unpleasant, concrete thinker? How would that person interact with others? Like a neurotic introvert?

This is a steppingstone. Sometimes when I start writing my years of TV, movies and books just tell me, nuh-uh, that's not gonna work! What were you thinking? Do something different... And I need to go back to the drawing board. The same happens in editing.

Another key aspect is that I firmly believe you can write yourself into becoming a better writer, human conditions and all. You will most definitely not become a better writer, or a writer at all if you don't write.

I've also done amateur theater. This was good for dealing with my diagnoses (experimenting with social situations until they looked good on stage, yummy!) but also for a sense of if something works "organically" (as in, real, visceral, centered-in-a-body) or not. I recommend it!

Is this way of doing things slower than being an NT (Neurotypical) and just being there in the mix? Maybe, maybe not. An NT has to unlearn "natural" to make it "fictional".

Take dialog for instance. Books don't have natural dialog. Or how about endless super realistic descriptions of things we already know how to do? This gets cut immediately by a pro writer. The reader knows how to push the answer-call-button, get on with the phone conversation!

Any author has to do research or write a poorly grounded, sloppy thing any editor will call out as under-researched on page 2. How would you describe the human condition of a serial murderer? Hopefully not by befriending one! ;)

Sure, I can't talk to you from the comfortable armchair of a bestselling author or even someone who makes a living off of their writing, but for me, writing is life, so I will keep doing it no matter what, and that is probably also a key aspect.

If you have to write, then your only way is to get better at it. Studying the human condition, but most importantly learning how to fictionalizing it in a book, and all.

And yes, you can study the human condition! You can learn "social math" and you can apply it in your fiction. The trick, as with anything you decide about your characters or story or settings is to take a reader-first perspective and figuring out how to show/hint at all this without writing it on the reader's nose. (Beta readers are great here, but anyone can detect an info dump, and in the words of Jerry Jenkins, "if you're bored by the text, the reader is asleep"...)

A book project is a big undertaking... not having the urge to do it no matter what can easily be the thing that prevents it from ever happening. But so can fear of failure, and that fear can also be a supercharger for finding all kinds of problems, and hurdles and "I'll probably never be a good author because"'s.

In essence, instead of letting your non-vanilla-edition of human condition prevent you from writing. Let it motivate you to bring your unusual perspective to the world.

After all, the world as we know it, inequalities, climate change, storming of centers for democracy, and all have pretty much been shaped by the choices and actions of normal people.

The world needs abnormal!

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The human condition can be observed from different angles; yours is uncommon enough to be very interesting. Exploit that. You'll see things others are missing, and as you say, you sometimes see clearly through layers of deception that would cloud average people's perception. Since you are not entangled in these deceptions you don't have to be considerate, neither to yourself nor to anybody else. You can be brutally honest and direct in your descriptions.

Looking at a familiar culture or setting from an outsider's perspective is a common stylistic device which can be quite eye-opening. To me, Samuel Beckett comes to mind as a writer who employed it regularly, for example in Watt.

While you may not feel that you understand the "human condition" you may still be a keen observer of it which can be a great source of insight.

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It's not necessary to "understand humanity" from the point of view of others; your own point of view is sufficient.

Write what you know. Write as an outsider looking in. Write about your perceptions of other people, not how they appear to perceive themselves.

Perhaps reading some classic examples of outsiders in fiction may increase your confidence that you can write and that you have something to say. Two great examples off the top of my head are "Stranger In A Strange Land" by Robert Heinlein (all about someone "not from here" interacting with humans) and part 2 of "The Gods Themselves" by Isaac Asimov (which features extremely nonhuman characters that are nevertheless relatable).

Edit: another great example is the short story "The Highway Code" by Brian Stableford, about a self-aware robo-trucker. Heck, write about monkeys.

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Do you understand space and time? No, you don’t. No one does — our knowledge of physics has not got to the point where it can explain what space or time really are. That doesn’t stop you from writing about everyday experiences of space and time — “I went down the road to the supermarket last Thursday”. In the same way, you can write about the human condition as you experience it, or as you think that others experience it, without fully understanding it.

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I'm writing an answer to address a point I don't think anyone else has brought up, except in an oblique way. A lot of people are saying that "if you're human, you're experiencing the human condition". This is technically true but maybe not the most helpful way to answer the question: "But what is the human condition?"

If you asked 100 people that you'd likely get 100 answers (or maybe 50 answers and 50 stumped faces!) However, there are a few elements that spring to mind for me:

  • Humans are smart enough to know life is tough. There is nothing tougher than the fact that we all will die. No matter what people say, subconsciously, this is a minor obsession for the human race. It motivates religions, wars, addiction, mid-life crises - you name it.
  • We're not smart enough usually to accept that we can't do anything about this fact. Even trying to (figuring out how to prolong life as long as possible with medicine) often leads to immeasurable additional suffering
  • Somewhat unrelated to the two points above is that we also are conscious creatures trapped inside a skull with only rudimentary tools for communicating with each other. This engenders a tremendous amount of loneliness - which also motivates a lot of human activity. Including, actually, writing. For why else write, but to explain yourself, or to free a story from the confines of your solitary mind?

Hopefully, this shows a bit better how it is that all writing is about the human condition. Our whole lives are oriented to fear of the unknown (death) and loneliness. Beautiful things come from those origins though - the bonds of family and friendships, art of all kinds, religious charity and faith. So we circle back around to the advice given previously, that it's sufficient to write about what you know (or write about anything!), because you'll inadvertently be writing about the human condition anyway. You don't have to seek to do this, for you can't help doing it.

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It's tempting to answer with some variation of "play to your strengths"—write a story, say, about an emotionally simplistic "deity" that manipulates and terrorises people like chess pieces; something that captivates the reader not by relating to the characters, but by being a metaphor for fate, which for many people will strike quite close to home.

But really this is dodging your question. So:

First off, suspend your contempt and cynicism. Even temporarily. The more deeply you can not only understand, but also take joy in, the imperfect goodness found in many people, the more you will have to draw on. I daresay it will help you have a healthier life which will also expand your writing abilities. But that's my opinion according to my value system.

On that note you need to appreciate people through value systems other than your own. I could rattle off major flaws in all the people close to me, but I think most of them are wonderful people.

while I've come to realize [my parents'] behavior is not what a normal adult should behave like

I can't take this on faith. My parents had heated arguments. There was emotional blackmail. My father is self-centred. But overall it was a normal loving human relationship with, as always, room for improvement. It's a question of degree as to whether a relationship is dysfunctional or abusive. From the sound of it you feel unsure about how to determine this.

Let's take the story of Robin Hood. Despite being a thief and bandit, he is usually depicted as a "good" character and this stems from:

  • his care for his "family" (the Merry Men), and
  • a Noble Cause (alleviating poverty and fighting injustice.)

The fact that a character can be good or at least have redeeming qualities in spite of lying, cheating, violence, greed, betrayal, or other "evils", shows the need to be able to adopt alternate value systems.

At the end of the day if you can't, for at least 70% of people, find a value system or microcosm where you can look at their positive attributes and judge them as "good" then you need to recalibrate something. I think this is key to trying to step into someone's world.

Second, consume a lot of classic fiction. Ancient Greek myth, theatre and and literature, Dostoevsky, etc. These often take human experience to extremes which helps one get to grips with it.

Third, you have shut things off. But you had those feelings and experiences at one point. I'm not an emotional person but I went through something that made me an emotional wreck. Now I'm sort of back to normal but I can reach back and recall those experiences. More importantly I can use them as a basis to "extrapolate" different feelings. I have realised that I could function as a human if I had certain sets of these emotions instead of extensive analytical thinking. So I imagine what that would be like and boom, I have a different personality type.

This also gave me insight into why "good people" totally contradict my value system sometimes, but why it's OK and why it must be that way.

And of course, experience more. Writing isn't just a skill, it's an art; it's a release of your soul. The act of writing makes you grow, whilst your experience of the world and your growth inspire your writing. According to my belief system you have a lot of room for "healing"—and the world can offer that. It can be very hard to look at old patterns that have been causing you pain, and admit that you've been sabotaging something for a long time, or make some improvement. I don't see your having any chance of convincingly portraying interpersonal relationships without having at least a friendship or intimate relationship of your own. So "suck it up" and seek one out. If you are held back because you don't think you want one, how can you really know unless you've actually experienced a good one?

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Aside from the other great answers here, you might consider doing something like world building or looking for a writing partner where they handle all the touchy/feely stuff and you make the fabric that the tapestry is painted upon.

I know this is a bit of a stretch, but it might work. There are many behind-the-scenes aspects to writing that require logic and analysis. Are there contradictions or inconsistencies in the story? Does the plot or a character violate laws of physics (unintentionally). Does some aspect of the story require substantial background research to make it believable?

As an example of something missed, I recently watched the Pandora TV series (which is top flight grade B sci fi). One of the things that makes it grade B is that the characters live on Earth, at least a couple of hundred years in the future, but frequently say things like, "get out of Dodge" which is an expression that's old today and would be entirely meaningless in their time. That's just illogical and it breaks the suspension of disbelief.

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I don't usually respond to fiction questions: fiction isn't a thing I have a knack for (sad to say). But speaking philosophically, I'll note that the idea that 'writing is fundamentally about "the human condition"' is affectation more than truth. Story writers invent the human condition as they go; they don't describe it. A good story establishes a kind of platonic ideal of what the human condition could/should/would be, and presents that ideal as what the human condition is, and that's the brilliance of it...

Most people go through their lives in a piecemeal fashion: they live in a (seemingly stochastic) series of events, experiences, feelings, and ideas, with only a dim and vague sense that there is an underlying thread connecting it all. They make up their own stories about themselves and others — "I am a person who...", "we want...", "they have always..." — in order to give consistency to their identity. But most people are not authors, and the stories they make for themselves are thin, ragged, and incomplete. A good author weaves a thread through that kind of piecemeal mess, making that 'series of happenings' appear as a coherent, consistent, cohesive flow. That sense of 'flow' gives the story vitality; that thread binds the otherwise isolated 'happenings' with a persistent meaning. Then people read the story and think "Wow, I can see how that is!". It helps them make sense of the condition of their own lives.

Fiction doesn't capture the human condition as such. Fiction creates a moral universe that readers can place themselves within, and thus establishes what the 'human condition' means.

You tell good story about yourself; I can see that from your question. Now tell it in a way that other people can find themselves within it. Don't worry about the 'human condition', because that's where the story goes, not where it comes from.

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