Sunday, June 18, 2006

Write What You Know?

The old advice for writers to write "what you know" has been oft debated in writing circles. It is taken to mean we should write about situations and places and facts of which we are familiar.

I think that can be good advice, except ... we need to take the phrase figuratively instead of literally. Yes, we writers tend to be a literal bunch. We have words and we know how to use them! I think fiction would be boring indeed, however, if we stick to only writing about what we have experienced. There is a large world of imagination out there that is so much more interesting than what we "know" in our small realities.

I define "write what you know" as meaning that we should take small experiences and infuse them into our stories to add a certain reality to the fiction. For instance, the other day I was standing outside close to my dark pink hollyhocks when a fat bumblebee buzzed around me to get to the pollen inside one of the blooms. As I watched, he happily mingled with the stamen and then left, trailing bits of pollen behind, some of which settled onto the petals. More was dropped behind him in his flight; a wondrous sight to behold, really. I had my camera in my hand but wasn't quick enough to catch the pollen falling from his tiny body. However, my eyes caught it, and so did my writer's instincts. I will be using that in a story somewhere, turning the sight of it over to a character.

I write what I know. I know my love of nature is prevalent throughout my stories. I know, also, that my love of the arts is the basis for my works. Do I know what it is like to be married at 17 and to lose a child? No. Jenna does, though, in Finishing Touches. I have enough empathy for others that I can imagine how it would feel to be in that situation. I do know, however, what it is like to have an artistic talent you don't feel is worthy of mention considering how much more artistic talent those around you have. I gave that to Jenna; that was something I know. In return, she gave me understanding of how easy it is to get into situations you would never plan.

I also write what I want to know. Do I know what it's like to travel with a rock band who happens to be close friends and watch them perform to different audiences in different cities? No. I would love to have the chance to do so, however. Do I expect it to happen? Only through following Susie in Rehearsal. She shares that with me. In return, I give her my love of trees and flowers and Mozart and Elton John. And I research.

Writing what you know can also mean that we need to research facts, including savory little details that add to reality, when we are writing what we don't know. If we write about what interests us, this will come through our work. If we aren't interested in our subject matter, our readers won't be, either. If we are, the research should be as much fun as the writing, or close to it. Think about how much more we will know simply from delving deeply into our subject matters. Knowledge is a wonderful thing! It is also wonderful to be able to share this knowledge with our readers. For instance, did you know that singers may have trouble singing lead while playing bass because they don't blend well, unlike singing while playing guitar? I didn't either, until I researched. Now Susie knows that, as well, and so will my readers.

I don't play guitar. I did start many years ago, but there are many intricacies involved with it that my main characters would know that I don't. So ... I'm taking a course in playing the guitar. I may still not be able to play, but at least I'll find more details to use in my writing.

Write what you know within what you don't know but would like to know. And research. That makes more sense to me.