How many times have we heard the old fiction-writing advice–write what you know? Overall, I think it’s good practice, and I wish I knew more that was worthy of writing about.
But sometimes, writing what you know doesn’t work, or can be a detriment.
WHEN WHAT YOU KNOW IS BORING
Some of the things I know are too boring to write about. Who wants to read a novel about higher education administration? I can write about publishing a magazine for university alumni, about growing up in a town of 2,000 in the Deep South, about living in five different states over my career, about quilting, about adopting a stray dog, about writing speeches for a college president.
But really. Who’d want to read it? Even I find it boring.
WHEN YOU KNOW TOO MUCH
Another thing I know a lot about: Hurricane Katrina. Lived through it. Read everything that’s been written about it.
So it was a natural for me to write about it. As I progressed through ROYAL STREET, my urban fantasy set during the immediate Katrina aftermath, however, I realized I knew too much.
I had to constantly remind myself: this is my character’s story, not mine. This is not a book about Katrina or about New Orleans; this is a completely different story that takes place in that city, in that time. I ended up cutting thousands of beautiful, heartbreaking descriptions that were simply overkill. You might read some of them here when the fifth anniversary rolls around on August 29.
WHEN YOU DON’T KNOW ENOUGH
It’s called research, and it’s a path marked with potential pratfalls and opportunities for ridicule. No matter how much I research the pirate Jean Lafitte or jazz great Louis Armstrong, there will be somebody out there, somewhere, who knows more than me. Yet at some point, I have to stop researching and start writing or the real experts will have nothing to ridicule.
And let’s not even talk about love scenes involving non-humans, where knowledge, research, and experience fall short. If anyone’s offering a workshop on it, though, just let me know 🙂
So, what do you know? And do you write about it?