Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Write What You Know--Werewolves?!

There's an old adage in writing that proclaims writers should "Write what you know." I struggled with this initially--I always had a taste for the fantastic, but had a tough time thinking anything in my own life was worthy of being rated as such. The idea of writing what I knew made me worry that my writing would be doomed to being dull (because what teen doesn't think their own life's blah?).

I eventually realized a few things I chalk up to being life lessons, and these helped me overcome the seeming limitations that old adage offers.

1.) Life is very much a journey--but one shouldn't forget the destination (seriously, if you were handed a map and had no place you really wanted to get to, how would you know when you'd finally arrived?). For me, my destination is related to improving myself and my knowledge and understanding of people and things. Writers sometimes call this "character evolution." ;-)

2.) We have more things in common than things we don't have in common.
  • Let's look at religion (I know--going right for a big one, right? ;-). Most religions believe in a supreme power or force. It may be God. It may be the Goddess. Go ahead, slap a name on the power of your choice and although we may all get mired in the semantics, most religious (and spiritual folks) believe there's something bigger (and better in some ways) than we mere mortal shells.
  • Now how about race--we all start by being the product of male and female attributes *ahem*. We all have at least one family member who tries to shape us. Sometimes a different one screws us up (sometimes it's the same one and all a matter of "good intentions"). We all struggle with our own identity and role in society at some point, whether we are black, white, or any other beautiful shade or color.
  • Gender? Again, we all at some point struggle with love, acceptance and understanding, regardless of if you're male, female, straight, bi-, homosexual, polyamorous or whatever.
  • We all face failure and we all have some taste of success (and if you don't believe me, you aren't opening your eyes to the good things in your life--they DO exist).
  • In the end, death is the great equalizer--we all eventually die.
Once you understand a few of these things (or whatever works for you as universal truths) you'll start to see that writing fantasy or paranormal characters and situations is not tremendously different than writing standard fiction characters--or, on some days *growl* your own diary or journal entries.

  • Most characters are set on a course to evolve or change, whether they're the waitress at the local pub or the werewolf dealing with hunger pangs and government agents.
  • Most of them will have to deal with some sort of emotional epiphany (often in order to evolve). It may be realizing they're aiming too high with a crush or that people aren't coping well with their arrogance or self-destructive traits. Who knows? Wait...
...YOU KNOW --YOU are the author of their world. You, as a living, breathing person should (and MUST) relate to your characters' plights. If you can't, who else will? This doesn't mean you should write each of your characters to be a pale reflection of you (or your life experience). Good gosh, no! But those key traits--those moments of epiphany--must spring from your heart and soul and join seamlessly to theirs.

I don't care if you're writing werewolves and you have such an allergy you've only ever had lizards for pets! Maybe watching "Wild Kingdom" reruns makes you develop hives--still you must make us connect to your werewolf (or vampire or brain-sucking zombie) through your emotional, physical, mental and spiritual understanding and experience.

"Write what you know"
isn't an excuse to limit our scope as writers--it is an invitation to examine ourselves and push the limits of our personal understanding of our world by reflecting it through our characters.

So get writing! ;-)

1 comment:

K.M. Weiland said...

Great points. I'm often frustrated by the cliche "write what you know." Wrote a blog post about it not long ago, in fact. When the entire point of fiction is that we imagine things we could not have experienced in our own lives, it hardly makes sense to demand that we *know* everything we write. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that it's impossible and detrimental. I have little interest in writing about only those things with which I've had personal experience.

I think you hit the nail on the head, however, with the notion that "knowing" comes down to the core of human experiences. Thanks for sharing.