Wednesday, March 2, 2016

How to Write What You Know & Love It


I don't WANT to write what I know.

I want to write about CIA operatives and the FBI agents. About the awesome cop in New York City who just broke up a drug ring.

I just kinda side-stepped the rule "write what you know" when no one was looking. Gave it a neat little shove into the closet, turned the lock and threw away the key. Did my storytelling ability suffer for it? Not so you would notice. But then again, it may have in ways I never thought about.

Why Should I Write About My Boring Life?

This rule makes everyone think they need to write about their own personal life. But it dawned on me that this rule is a little misleading. It needs a face-lift. More like a couple of words changed. Here we go:

You should not write what you know, 
you should incorporate what you know 
into what you write.

Now how does that sound? Happy sigh coming right up!

One of my favorite authors is an excellent example of this.

Elizabeth Wein was born in New York City, grew up in England, Jamaica and Pennsylvania. She now lives in Scotland with her husband, and they are both avid flyers of small planes.

So, what did she write about?
  • Arthurian England and Ethiopia in her Mark of the Lion Series. 
  • A Scottish girl who ferried aircraft during WWII, Code Name Verity. But this story is also about an agent for the SOE in Germany, something she didn't know about. 
  •  In Rose Under Fire, she wrote in the same time period, but this time about an American girl from Pennsylvania. 
  •  In Black Dove, White Raven she wrote about children from Pennsylvania whose mothers' fly planes and do stunt tricks. Here is where she was able to incorporate her new found love of Ethiopia and a bit of nostalgia from her previous series.
Everything she knew she incorporated into what she wrote. Writing what she knew opened her up to writing about even more things and paved the way for her to incorporate what she loved into what she wrote.We should do the same.

It's not what you know, it's how you use what you know.

What About Fantasy & Sci-Fi?

There are two very important things you should always incorporate into all of your stories, modern, fantasy or sci-fi. The two things throughout history that have never changed:
  • Emotions - Only you know what it's like to be you, to have your feelings, to think your thoughts. And you can use the unique way you choose to describe these emotions to appeal and empathize with others. 
  • Relationships - Complicated as they are, relationships are important. Only you know what it's like to have your parents and siblings, or to hang out with your best friend. The bully at school. Your boss. Not to mention all the people you wished you knew or could know on a small basis.
Don't ever skimp on feelings and relationships. But make sure they are true to life and realistic. Avoid cliches and sappy romance.

Even if they are just little things, if you've experienced them, write them down. It's experiences unique to you that you should write about and the world needs to hear.

Strive for authenticity. The more real you are, the more your readers will connect with your writing.

What are you fascinated with? What stories have you heard first hand? There are a million ways to write what you know. Your knowledge of the obscure little things in your life is valuable. Don't waste it.

Let's talk! What's one way you've incorporated what you know into what you've written? Let me know in the comment section below!

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