Monday, October 04, 2010

Write What You DON'T Know

My writing friend K.M. Weiland recently asked on Twitter what the worst piece of writing advice you've ever received is.

I had a prompt response:

Write what you know.

While this piece of advice is common in writer's circles, I'd have to say my stories would be pretty boring if I wrote about what I know. Who really wants to read about a stay-at-home mom nursing her infant son or trying to figure out how to get hand lotion out of her two-year-old's curly locks? Sounds pretty boring to me--and I've done both of these in the last 24 hours.

I write mystery and science fiction. Have I ever stumbled over a dead body? As long as you don't count the funerals I've gone to, no. Have I ever solved a crime? No. Have I ever flown in space? Okay, that one could get a varied response based on who you ask--some may say I'm a space cadet. Technically, the answer is no. (Not that I wouldn't if offered!)

I've done all these things while writing, yet I have no personal knowledge of any of them.

Research is the answer. Even a romance book requires some research. Unless a writer was raised in an Amish or closed community, how else are they going to know how to write so-called "bonnet romances"? Research. If I need to know the difference between a Glock G26 and a Saturday Night Special, what do I do? Research.

My point is that instead of "writing what we know," the creative use of research allows us as writers to fill in the blanks that we don't know, sometimes with mundane, but most of the time with interesting facts we've discovered. It gives us a chance to get it right: talking to a homicide detective about how they solve a crime, for instance.

My local writing buddy, Juliet Kincaid, taught a lesson at a Sisters in Crime meeting a few years ago. I wish she had that lesson online so I could share it with you, but it basically shared some creative places to do your research. She writes primarily historical mysteries, so she makes good use of librarians--I would never have thought of asking a librarian before her talk!

For more on research, I highly recommend this post by K.M. Weiland.

So, going back to K.M.'s question, what's the worst piece of writing advice you've ever received?

Until next time,



P.S. K.M. Weiland covered this topic as well yesterday her blog. Check it out here.

4 comments:

Lorna G. Poston said...

Good post, Liberty.

Tracy Krauss said...

So true. I don't want to have to go through a divorce, commit murder, or any number of other gruesome things in order to gain first hand experience!

Liberty Speidel said...

@Tracy, I know! :) In my current WIP, my MC went through the accidental death of her fiancé--I hope I never go through that! (Especially since I'm married!)

@Lorna, thanks.

Victor Travison said...

You made some great points today, Liberty. I write a lot of things I've never done--space travel being the most obvious of them. I've never seen a blind person have the insights my character Norma Crane Robbins has, I've never watched a man leap great distances from his scooter, but I write about them in my Coalition trilogy.

I also have no personal experience in being framed for murder or drug possession, or dealt with a rape cult, but the Coalition also deals with these.

Like you, Liberty, if I wrote exclusively what I knew, you'd have a humdrum story about a nobody who watches television and comments on other people's blogs. :D No drama there.

~ VT

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