Friday, April 22, 2011

Write What You Know?

I'm the last one to tell you to write what you know. Does J.K. Rowling know what it's like to go to Hogwarts and battle the most evil dark wizard in history? Does Stephenie Meyer know what it's like to fall in love with a vampire? Does Lisa McMann know what it's like to be sucked into people's dreams? Does Tamora Pierce know what it's like to be a lady knight in Tortall?


I've never put much store into the advice to "write what you know." Lately, however, I've been having second thoughts. What happened to cause this change?

I don't believe the phrase "write what you know" is meant to be taken literally. It doesn't mean to write only what you already know and not explore other avenues. It means to use your experiences as a foundation for your writing. And sometimes a lack of experiences really can impair your writing.

Example: In every one of my novels there is at least one kiss scene. These scenes were based on what I'd heard from friends, seen in movies, and read in books.

Then I got my first kiss and everything changed. I realized that kissing wasn't anything like I thought it would be. I've been going back through BB and revising all the kiss scenes and I don't intend to ever write a kiss scene the same way again.

I never thought I had a problem with writing kissing scenes until I gained some knowledge and realized that I wasn't giving a realistic picture.

Does this mean you should only write what you know?

Of course not! That's boring. But keep in mind that many novels have an anchor in the author's experiences. Perhaps the phrase shouldn't be "write what you know" but "know what you write."


Caitlin R. O'Connell said...

Hey! I posted about this too, just yesterday! Great minds think alike. ;)

Also... yeah... totally making up the kissing. :P Ah well.

Sarah said...

I think writing what you know is easier, but I also think it's important to stretch as a writer and put things to page you've never experienced. It just involves more research to make sure you get it right.

Cheree said...

Great post. I usually write urban fantasy and horror so things that I don't know. But, I agree that this saying has more to do with the actions and emotions of the character. You'll be able to create a more realistic feeling if you know what the character is really feeling.