Thursday, February 20, 2014

Writing What You Know

I've been asked more than once, how can you write what you know when it's all fictional?

It's a fair question. I usually answer that I do vast amounts of research. Geography, weather patterns, local history, etymology of dialects. I've researched kitchen tables, the exact material used to make a bullet, hair color, facial features, psychological profiles, direct conversations with people exchanging information, the list goes on. So when I say I research everything, I do mean everything. It goes with what I often tell people. Careful what you tell an author, it just might show up in the nex book.

Sharing all the nitty-gritty preparation work I do for my writing doesn't seem to really answer the question, and seems to bore people more than anything else. No one really cares and the question is left unanswered. I suspect it's because the construction of the question is inaccurate and would be better phrased as, how to you use what you know in fiction writing?

The answer? A combination of imagination and common sense. I realize that may sound snobby to some, annoyingly vague to others, but it's a true statement.

Let's say I want to write about a sunset in Cuba. I've never been to Cuba. I have experienced a beautiful sunset countless of times in various places all over North America. With the aid of research tools such as libraries, wikipedia, Google images, travel blogs, etc, I compare the learned knowledge with my own experiences, and describe a sunset. A sunset is universal. A sunset in Cuba requires specifics. Imagination and common sense.

Although the settings for many stories I write tend to be locations that are foreign or exotic to me, only because I enjoy a creative challenge, I stretch my imagination and familiarize myself with the location until I can visualize myself there. After all, it's my own fictional universe.

I admit, this doesn't always work. There are times that whatever I'm attempting is simply too far outside the realm of my personal experiences, that I just can't stretch my imagination that far. But that never stops me from trying. When or if it works, it's completely worth the effort.

I'll be further honest. Talent is inherent, skill is learned. Writing what you know takes a combination of both. The question is not, do I have talent? Of course you do. We all have talent, in one form or another.

The question is, why aren't you using the talent you already have?

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