Hi SEers! Denise here to talk about writing what you know.
This may be advice you’ve received as a writer. I know I heard it in writing classes and applied that idea to my settings. I live in a forest and have spent a lot of time at the ocean, so I am familiar with this.
Then there are stories set in places I’ve never visited that require research. Does that qualify me to know a city or town from research? If I dig deep, I think it does.
But what about when writing about serial killers, adventure, mystery, science fiction, or fantasy?
I’m pretty sure I haven’t met a serial killer, or a fictional parasite-type creature, the evildwel. Yet, I write about them. I can’t prove if I’ve seen or spoken to a fairy or angel, so I’m no expert on them, but they show up in my work. I haven’t arrested anyone or pursued a killer either.
So how does writing what we know mean for fictional writers?
“Write what you know” is credited to Mark Twain. Mr. Twain’s more famous stories, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, take his advice and pull from common settings and issues around him.
When I write, I will include things I am familiar with, like cell phones, driving a car, traveling on a plane, eating in a restaurant, using a computer, buying clothes, needing sleep, and all modern-day essentials. I also have memories of times without home computers. These little details show up in my work.
Since I can’t experience some things I write about, I am forced to imagine how I’d feel and how my character would feel. The question then becomes, what do I want to know. Then I investigate and learn something new.
Emotions can play a vital part in a character’s journey. Here I have to go with what I’ve seen or dealt with myself. But, I can talk to others and see how a certain situation made them feel.
I based one story on watching a close friend deal with a terrible situation in a fictional setting.
Even in fantasy, there has to be a connection to the character from our experience with people or ourselves.
Here are a few reasons to write what you know:
- It adds those minor details to a story that pulls in the reader.
- You’re pushed to learn about something to write about it.
- This gives you the gift to explore virtually or physically fresh places for a unique setting.
- Providing the character’s true emotional response lets the reader connect and root for them.
- We all have faults, and so should the characters. It’s easy to give them a few of ours or ones we are familiar with.
Ultimately, you are trying to communicate with another person reading your work. Using some of your knowledge within even a fantasy story reaches out with a connection that would otherwise not be there. It may be fiction, but the emotions or settings need to be a place where someone can say I’ve felt that, or that’s a place I’d like to visit or not visit.
I’ve been a mother, grandma, wife, friend, daughter, niece, hairdresser, student, secretary, cashier, clerk, photographer, rock collector, reader, movie enthusiast, writer, sports fan, and seeker of all things spiritual and new knowledge. Yet, I can write from the husband, son, killer, con artist, or an athlete’s point of view from my observations, education, and exposure to them.
How about you? Do you write what you know?