Friday, April 10, 2009

Write What You Know?

So one of the most basic pieces of writing advice you're ever likely to hear is the old, "write what you know," phrase. It's certainly good advice; when you're writing about something with which you have a lot of experience, it's bound to come off sounding authentic and will draw your reader that much more into your story.

But what if you don't like what you know? Take me, for example. I'm a SAHM with a degree in elementary education. Now, there's probably a great story out there waiting for me where the heroine is a teacher and a bunch of crazy things happen. But that's really not what I want to write about. Now, anyway.

In my books, my characters have time traveled, been doctors, spies, private investigators, archaeologists, antique experts and survivors of the Civil War. Some of my heroes have been accountants, tech guys, former drug addicts, blacksmiths and victims of amnesia.

Nothing in my shorter novels, (those that exclude the Civil War seris), has ever happened to anyone I know. A lot of what I've written is what I call "escape fiction," and is totally out there. That's because it's what I like to read, as well. When I read for enjoyment, I like to be completely and thoroughly entertained.

I also happen to love research.

Eeewww! So many people hate research, but I really love it. And here's one of the biggest benefits to spending a bit of time researching: it becomes what you know! I know, how great is that! If you spend some time becoming familiar with something else- a different occupation, location, time period- you have moved yourself into the realm of knowing something about the subject and when you do that, all sorts of things open up for your writing. Suddenly it becomes very easy to imagine a character with a given set of traits who, when you put her into a given set of circumstances or a profession, takes off on her own.

I suppose what I mean with all of this is that while yes, you will write with your own set of experiences behind you, it's ok to venture out into the unknown and make it known. Don't be intimmidated about writing something you haven't personally experienced just because you haven't personally experienced it.

Crack open a book on ancient Egypt, google archaeology, buy a guidebook on India or England--the sky's the limit if you don't limit yourself.


Valerie Holladay said...

Thank goodness for people who have the courage to write what they don't know but are interested in learning more. More and more I realize the risks involved in writing and the courage it takes. But speaking of research, I understand some would-be writers have a hard time letting go of the security of researching to start creating. So besides the readers who enjoy your writing, I'll bet there are some writers out there learning from your writing experience as well. Cheers, Val

Michele Ashman Bell said...

I love research too! And your advice is solid. After writing 7 novels that didn't get published, I finally took that advice to heart and voila, got my first book published.

Cheri J. Crane said...

I think research is one of the perks of writing. Way cool post, Nancy. ;)I heartily agree.

Anna Buttimore said...

Nancy, never mind buying the guidebook on England - come and visit!

I loved doing research on Easterfield; history is so fascinating. I have also just submitted a book set on Majorca, which naturally required a holiday there. Wonderful!