Tuesday, 19 January 2016

My third writing-related blog post in which I discuss the limitations of writing what you know, the disadvantages of writing what you don't know and how it has been effecting my writing in general and my current WIP in particular

I must confess that there was a time when I used to scoff at 'write what you know' advice. Surely that's not right? I reasoned that writing what you know would greatly limit the number of topics one could actually write about, which would, in its turn, effect the number of books being written in a dramatic way. No, said I. I want to write what I feel, what I want, what I imagine, what I have no first clue about! Isn't that what writing is all about? To explore the secret, the concealed, the unknown? To use your imagination in order to supplant your lack of knowledge? Well, that seemed to suffice for some time — during that very early period of blissful belief in my own genius (I think most writers go through it) — in other words, until I knew better and understood that the not knowing is effecting my writing in a big way. Looking back on the books that I had written, I suddenly realized how blind I've been not to see that I'd been projecting my own limited experience onto my characters in one big respect (at least!). 

I come from a really small family and the circle of my acquaintances and friends with whom I interact on a regular basis is even smaller. I have no idea what it's like to have a large family or a lot of friends and I'm afraid that my characters suffer from that. In my first three regency novels I had the number of families limited to two and three with the overall number of characters no more than ten throughout the whole book, while in my fantasy novel I constructed the plot in such a way that the whole kingdom was inhabited by just two people and a wolf! I didn't write conversations taking place between more than three people at the same time and as for the supporting cast of characters it was virtually non-existent. I suppose I've always known that it was something of a major flaw but, somehow, I managed to convince myself that I'm, in fact, complying with the 'write what you know' rule. 

In a roundabout way I finally came to use it! But while I can see certain advantages of following this rule, I think that there's nothing wrong with not following it either or, at least, not letting it control your writing as it did mine. I think my problem was that I just didn't want to challenge myself to break down the walls and try something new. I was afraid to let more characters in. I didn't know what to do with them, how to coordinate their actions and make them do what I wanted them to do. In other words, I didn't want them play havoc with my writing. It turned out that I was afraid to write what I didn't know after all. So, all that time the joke had been on me. I had been doing exactly what I had once so vehemently denied as an acceptable road for any writer worthy of their imagination to take. Of course, there are some things that cannot be gained through personal experience and first-hand knowledge, and sometimes not even all your imagination can help, but, thankfully, there are plenty of books to read, films and TV-shows to watch, people to observe and notes to take. After all, there are so many varied resources a writer can use in the absence of the knowledge and in order to nurture one's imagination. 

I think I've become better. I mean, I still find it much easier to create vivid and lifelike characters if I base them on people I've met (however briefly) in my life, whose main features and characteristics I blow ridiculously out of proportion for my own amusement. But, finally, my current regency WIP has a lot of families and a lot of characters and a lot more are yet to come and I'm not quite sure where they are all coming from but, hey, I'm not going to stop them! The dam has broken. And even the sequel to my fantasy novel, that I'm slowly working out, is chock-full of characters, both leading and supporting. But just as I was about to congratulate myself on overcoming one shortcoming, I realized that I've once again found myself entrapped by my own limited experience. This time I am hindered by the fact that I'm the only child in the family and Regency era is known for its large families and lots of children. It suddenly struck me that all of my families within the story are one-child families (with only one exception)! So now I have to figure out how to diversify the families, expand some of them and introduce more children of different ages into the story. Sigh...

These are some of my writing woes connected with not knowing things I'm supposed to write about. What are yours? Do share!

The pros & cons of writing what you know and what you don't. Thoughts? via @faridamestek (Click to tweet)

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