Monday, January 23, 2012

Writing 101

 Lesson 1: 
Write what you know

Really? All along, I’ve been writing about what I didn’t know, after all, I’m a fiction writer.

Let’s think about this a moment. If I write what I know—borrring—because you probably know a lot of what I know, too. After all I’m not a rocket scientist, a dog whisperer or even very knowledgeable about lattes—can never remember if it’s suppose to be a grande or a venti. And was that half-caff or ….well you get the idea.

So, if I don’t know about something, does that mean I can’t write about it? Then what’s the purpose of research? Do we have a set amount of knowledge we can draw from and never learn anything new? That sounds catawampus to me; chicken or egg conundrum.

I like to read mysteries—you know murder, serial killers, detectives, guns, etc. Do I have to know a serial killer if I want to write a book about one? We have a famous profiler here in town I can ask if there’s something I need to know. Do I have to have a gun and practice at a shooting range to include it in my mystery? There are detectives here in my town (I'm assuming in yours as well) to interview for facts and details if I need them—you know research.

But I write paranormal suspense, so should I have seen a ghost, or a werewolf, or a magical occurrence to write about it? And, when was the last time you saw an alien—uh, well, that one I might have seen.

The point is it’s a ridiculous instruction. New writers take everything “an expert” tells them and they try to abide by it, without question, squashing their creativity. I think it can produce very boring stuff—I know I’d be bored writing only what I know. I want to entertain myself while I’m writing or why do it?

Maybe you don’t agree—I’m okay with that. Tell me.

(Picture by Maggie Smith

#coraramos #writer #paranormal #suspense


Prudence MacLeod said...

Of course you have to write about what you know. That's why I write about the future, outer space, ghosts, goddesses etc. I mean, sheesh. Right?

Cool post.

Unknown said...

I've heard that saying before too. And I followed it, to a point, but I do find that I'm more intrigued with writing about what I don't know. Like the time I saw a UFO...

Julie Kenner said...

Great post, Cora! Personally, I hunt demons in my spare time, so I am writing what I know (oh. I wasn't supposed to tell you that....).

Seriously, though, I think the adage does have some truth to it. But it goes to a deeper issue. What is it about mysteries or paranormal romance or romance or thrillers that resonate with readers? It's that lure of the unknown, the first kiss, or the burning need to figure out a problem and get out of a mess. For the most part, everyone has shared that common, deep emotional base. And *that's* what the author needs to "write" -- dig deep and pull out the real emotions. The ones that she knows. And that's what will make a reader connect. Not the exterior, but the interior.

At least, that's how I've always thought of the "Write what you know" adage!

April Plummer said...

Boy am I glad you don't know murder! LOL. :) Great post, and I think you're absolutely right. That "rule" is outdated. It should always be "Write what interests you. What touches your soul. What inspires you."

Cora said...

Right. And I write about Mayans hundreds of years ago--research. Thanks for looking in and commenting.

Cora said...

Exactly! Thanks for commenting.

Cora said...

I have to agree with you. The genuine emotions are what you know. The adage should be changed to "write from the emotion you really know."

As far as the lure of the paranormal, my thought is that people that are drawn to it want to step beyond the everyday experience to something supernormal--the same impulse that causes people to love dangerous sports, or explorers who have to see what is around the next turn or see over the edge (my thing).

Thanks for your imput.

Cora said...

I think Julie (previous comment) hit on a major clue--it's the emotions. If it stirs your emotions, then it interests and touches you. How can you write without inspiration, right. Thanks for commenting.

Carrie Daws said...

LOL! I'm with April! You point out that this is yet another writing/grammar rule that writers should feel free to break when the reasoning is sound. Great job!

Cora said...

Thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

I agree with April, it is more a matter of writing what interests you, where your passions lie. :-) I think Julie is right--the emotions shown in books should be based on our own experiences as much as possible, but I don't think the entire plot needs to be.

Cora said...

Yes, if it interests you, you will be able to sustain focus for the whole novel (assuming you are writing a novel). Thanks for commenting.

Anonymous said...

I've dug out my notes from a 2010 convention panel on this very topic. Panellists were Jack Dann, Kaaron Warren (Australian Horror writer) and Kim Stanley Robinson. They had lots of interesting things to say on how much research you should do (about 90% more than you put on the page), that it's possible to take experiential research too far (citing Hemingway and Kerouac), and also on the importance of emotional resonance raised above. But I think Kaaron summed it up nicely when she said "writers project what they know into imagined scenarios."

David Stoddard said...

I am getting into the whole writing about what I don't know. (After all, that opens up a whole lot more stuff to consider writing about). I'll leave the writing what one knows to the "professionals" out there who know their stuff. I'm just getting into the whole "wing-it" writing world at the moment. (At least that's what I know for now).

Cora said...

I like your sense of humor. Good place to be.

Cora said...

You just gave me an idea, David, maybe I should start a new movement, Write what you don't know.

Augie said...

Here, here, research is great to keep one on the track of believability of the scenes, but the imagination is so mush more interesting to keep the plot rolling. So in a way experience is important, but the imagination is such more inspiring. Augie Hicks

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