1. Kaylin
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    Kaylin Member

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    Authentic experience creates authentic writing?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Kaylin, Jul 20, 2012.

    Do you think having experienced it is a requirement for writing about it? Would you need to fall in love to convincingly portray that feeling on paper? Kind of a typical example, but what about the smaller things like fainting, technical details about inner school workings, socializing fluently with people?

    I don't think I live broadly enough to cover a lot of aspects I'd like to in my writing. Reading widely helps a lot, but it can't apply to everything; your MC might see things and live things differently.

    So if your protagonist or a prominent character has done/felt something you haven't, what would the second best thing be to gaining such knowledge?

    What if a main character in your story is older than you; how would you get in their head and depict them correctly- try it based on your knowledge of people with similar circumstances or wait until you're older?
    And do you think one would need a certain amount of life experience to write well? Is there a milestone of some sort to pass- maybe several?
     
  2. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Similar questions are discussed frequently here. The adage "write what you know" has a lot of validity, but like all writing rules, is more of a guideline that can be and often is, disregarded. It's much easier to write about something you know. You can convincingly add a lot of details and descriptions. Not knowing about something, although this makes the writing task much more difficult, does not make it impossible. A common example is writing about killing someone or dying. Most writers haven't killed anyone, and no one has died and come back to tell us what it is really like. So the next best thing is to do a lot of research. A lot. It depends on what you're writing about, but the internet is a really wonderful thing. There are a lot of bulletin board type sites out there where people will discuss very intimate issues, so you can get a very good sense of what it is like, for example, to have a spouse cheat on you or have a miscarriage, or lose a family member. And of course, information about a school or some other institution is easily found online.

    It is hard to write about a character who is significantly older than you are, but again, it's not impossible. There's no magical milestone or number of years you need to live in order to have good insight into the human experience. Some people have this early -- when they're teens or even younger. Some people never have it. Trying to learn about it and imagining different perspectives are key to getting to a point where you can write well.
     
  3. DomTheDoxx
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    DomTheDoxx Member

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    Whenever i write fiction i put my character through things i've never been involved with before, such as: life-risking battles. I got in a lot of fights when i was younger so i know the basics of what its like to have your adrenaline pumping etc. But getting shot, or hit by an arrow, or knocked out, those kinds of things i just have to guess what they're like. It helps to close your eyes and visualize the situation, you'd be surprised how accurate your brain is at recreating events in your mind.
     
  4. louis1
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    louis1 Contributing Member

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    If people only wrote about what happened to them, there would be no such thing as fiction, and there would either be a lot less book being published or an incredible amount of boring stuff to read.
     
  5. tinyplanets
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    tinyplanets Member

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    I would think that most people who write have a good enough imagination to write about things they haven't experienced. I find it useful to draw from certain experiences which may be similar to what you are trying to convey.

    I agree with others though, observation and research can give authenticity to a work of fiction.
     
  6. BastienGood
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    BastienGood Banned

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    My opinion is yes, my answer is no.
    I think and believe that most of people aren't able to describe the processes without expreriencing them. But there's a small percent of people, who are able to describe things without any experience in right way. These are people with encyclopedical knowledge, which helps them compensate some leaks.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    there's no magic formula for this... and not everyone who wants to be a writer is capable of writing convincingly about things they haven't experienced... some can and some can't...

    so, the bottom line is you have to see what you turn out, after doing all the research you think will help... you may be one of those rare few who can, but you'll never know, till you give it a go...

    one of my own 'greatest lines' says it best: "Nothing is impossible till you quit and nothing is possible unless you start."
     
  8. Ettina
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    Ettina Active Member

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    I think it helps, but it's not necessary.

    I've seen some writers portray things well that they haven't experienced themselves. For example, Yann Martel is not an Indian boy, yet he portrayed one very well in Life of Pi. I'm still scratching my head wondering how he managed to keep so consistently to the style of wording an Indian who speaks English as a second language would use that I literally ended up hearing the words in an Indian accent the entire story. The only other novel-length story I've read that kept an accent in my head the whole story was The Mind Tree, an autobiography by an actual Indian boy, Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadyay.
     
  9. Thumpalumpacus
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    Thumpalumpacus Contributing Member

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    Put me in the "it helps, but it's not necessary" middle-ground as well. Simply experiencing something doesn't impart the ability to observe, report, or write about it effectively.
     
  10. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ditto, thumper. It does, indeed, help a writer to have experienced, at least on some level, the things about which s/he writes. HOWEVER, having experienced those things does not mean that someone would be able to write about those experiences and impart the feeling, mood, sensation of the experience. Conversely, a person who has not had the actual experience about which s/he writes may, indeed be able to recreate that experience for others.

    But then, splitting hairs, as I am wont to do, I doubt seriously a person could write convincingly about an experience s/he has not at least touched on in some way. For instance, as DomtheDoxx noted, not having been in a war does not preclude the ability to relate to the experience on at least a small level ... even if the war involved is only a high school battle that drives the adrenaline through your body and gives you a more aggressive ability with which to approach and deal with a situation.

    You may not have died (I'm assuming that applies to all here! Ghost writers excluded, of course.), but you may have been in a car accident, or gotten a lungful of swimming pool water, or banged your head so hard it knocked you out or, at least made you see a bright flash of light.
    All of those experiences can help you relate to some other, deeper experience. Now, is that going to make you a better writer? Maybe. Any experience can expand your realm of reality and help you write better, more convincingly if you are a competent writer. If you cannot competently create scenes and worlds and interactions between/among people, it probably won't make any difference anyway.
     
  11. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Write what you love - and what you love you'll know or get to know. I'm not big on the you-have-to-experience-things to write convincingly motto - or sci-fi fiction would never exist.
    If everyone wrote what they knew - Charles Dodson would've wrote some dry text book and there would be no Alice in Wonderland , no
    Lewis Carrol.

    On the flip side - Why take on projects that have nothing to do with who you are, and what you feel, or imagine?

    Even though Charlotte Bronte wasn't exactly an expert in the love department , she wrote Jane Eyre - tapping into her feelings
    ( a forbidden crush ) to create one of the most haunting, romantic novels ever.

    You have to develop a desire to research and investigate and most of all imagine , tap into experiences that
    emotionally moved you to fill in the blanks. Remember tons of people have love affairs - doesn't mean they
    can put pen to paper and transfer what they feel any more accurately or believabley than someone who
    hasn't.
     
  12. jane elliot
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    I think that the thread of human emotion ties us all together tighter than we think. There's a lot of material that can be tapped into, even if you haven't had a life-changing love or anything. Stephen Crane wrote The Red Badge of Courage without having ever experienced battle, and yet his works are renowned for their realism. Clearly he understood some things about the emotions of regret, despair, terror, and honor. It just takes a studied mind.
     
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  13. BBBurke
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    I was just writing about this topic the other day. Write what you know is a good adage, but knowing and experiencing are two different things. You can 'know' about something in a myriad of ways: research, extrapolation, imagination, as well as actual experience.

    I think the key is that your writing have some truth behind it. It has to be based on something that you know and then carried to whatever it is you are writing about. The Fantasy genre is a great example. By definition it has unrealistic creatures and situations. But what makes good fantasy is the human truths it contains, the things in it that the reader can relate to.

    So start with what you do know about life. Research as much as you can about the things you haven't experienced. And then put them together to make up something completely new: fiction.
     

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