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  1. Lothgar
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    Lothgar Contributing Member

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    Writing what you know: What is your comfort zone?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Lothgar, Sep 8, 2010.

    There was a recent discussion about writing about romance/love that inspired this thread. Many people felt that a writer could write a better story if they had actually experience the kind of relationship/romance they were writing about.

    While I'd agree that it is easier to write about "what you know", than having to spend time doing research to learn something new, I also feel that there is nothing wrong with taking the time to learn something new.

    So, the question I'm posing for the readers of this forum is:

    What is your comfort zone?

    What topics and subjects are you familiar and comfortable with? What writing projects do you feel up to the task to tackle WITHOUT doing any research on?

    What writing projects would you accept if it meant having to do some research in order to complete it?

    What writing projects would you NOT ACCEPT and why?


    EDIT: ---> Just realized that I had forgotten to answer my own questions. I'd lose my head if it wasn't attached. :)

    Having grown up and lived most of my adult life reading fantasy, science fiction and horror stories, I feel confident enough to write these without having to do any research on them. In the case of science fiction, I may need to spend some time googling specific bits of science and/or technology, in order to make some parts of the plot make sense, but that's all.

    Having served in law enforcement, the military and private security, I feel confident to write stories about these using my real life experiences as my research.

    Having worked in executive positions in corporate America, I also feel confident writing stories in that setting.

    I have no problem writing stories that incorporate elements of the hobbies I've had during my life (Coin collecting, skiing, rock climbing, scuba diving, interior design, art collecting, etc.).


    Topics I'd accept a writing assignment for that required research on my part:

    Historic non-fiction and fiction. I've been a life long history buff and between the internet and the History Channel, I feel I've probably got it covered.

    Medical/Hospital based stories. The only medical training I've had is an EMT certification course required by my Security job, some twenty years ago. I'd have to do some major research to know what I was talking about if I were to write about this, but I like to think I'm up the task.



    Subjects I'd reject and why:

    Child exploitation/pornography pieces. Not even in fiction, because I view such subjects as beneath me.

    Political propaganda. Not for any side, because I'd rather watch sausage being made than get involved with actual politics.
     
  2. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    The subjects I am most academically comfortable with are not my comfort zone in fiction or I would not be struggling writing a piece on two women in history, as my specialisation at uni was women in history/archaeology. I tend to slip into essay mode when writing them.

    My comfort zone with fiction has turned into fantasy wasn't planned it was how my first story worked best. Oddly I struggle writing women, do better with men. First person present tense seems to be what I like writing my first book was from the point of view of a seventeen year old boy, my second and third are from twenty eight year old gay men. I like the world I have created and it has the potential for endless stories with the characters I have created, if anything I have too much material, because it is very character driven there are characters who have stories worth telling.

    I loved reading most genres and would be happy to write any good story.
     
  3. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I write fantasy with little to no research, for my comfort zone. As soon as it dips into real world I start looking stuff up, though usually I stick with teenagers and school/university so it's really just the sort of odd things that might catch anyone out.

    I tend not to write anything too sciencey or political/economic etc, just 'cause I don't really understand it well enough to write it - not to the level I'd be satisfied with. And, well, it doesn't interest me. :p Dipping into writing real world was a big breaking out of my comfort zone I undertook only in the last few years, after pretty much a lifetime of writing in various types of fairy world or something like that. I still don't think I've written enough to have built a new comfort zone in it that I need to break out of yet. :p
     
  4. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm an engineer by profession. I feel comfortable writing science fiction and stories with a strong technical aspect without research. I also like fantasy and history, but to write a real historical story I'd have to do research.

    I'm a guitarist and singer who has played both folk and folk-rock as well as jazz-rock, so I could write stories about musicians and music without doing research as well.

    I don't like love stories and I think I'd be uncomfortable writing them. But I think I'd be most uncomfortable writing gritty stories about homeless drug addicts and other types of urban street people. The whole gritty-urban thing doesn't work well for me.

    I guess the further away from the here-and-now I get, the happier I am writing.
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ...familiar with pretty much any, comfortable with any other than fictional violence...

    ...most, since i've been a voracious reader/studier since earliest childhood and at 72 [in a few days] have experienced/observed/read about everything one can possibly write about...

    ...doing research is simply a vital part of the job of being a writer, so having to do some wouldn't affect my decision to write about this or that...

    ...see answer to first question... i won't either write or help anyone else write violent content in fiction, since there's altogether too much of the real stuff going on and i took a vow not to aid or abet the use of violence for entertainment...
     
  6. Dante Dases
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    Dante Dases Contributing Member Contributor

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    What topics am I comfortable and familiar with?

    I'm most comfortable when writing about the criminal law, probably. But I don't write about it from a legal standpoint, partly because my background to it is academic and partly because I don't actually like writing about it. And it's dull to read about in a fictional environment unless it's transplanted into an unfamiliar setting, I find. I'm also pretty comfortable writing about emotional upheaval, again thanks to personal experience. From writing experience, my comfort zone is definitely fantasy although I've lost my interest in it recently and I've been testing the water in a horror setting far more. Love writing SF, in part because it isn't my comfort zone and I find it a challenge, particularly hard SF.

    What writing projects would I accept if it meant having to do some research to complete it?

    Most, if it interested me. Last summer I spent a few days digesting some hideously advanced, barely comprehensible documents about the event horizons of black holes that I'd managed to procure from a physics professor at my university. I didn't understand a word of it, it has to be said. But if the project interested me I'd take it on and write it regardless of research, unless it was a piece of flash fiction and the research would take a disproportionate amount of time to do.

    What writing projects would I not accept and why?

    I don't like writing about certain things, but it's not to say I wouldn't write about them. I couldn't really give you a list, because if it felt right for the story I would write practically anything (so long as it's legal). Things like child abuse I wouldn't want to write details on, and it would be more implied than explicit, but it could be there, same goes for subjects like rape and other sex offences. I won't say I'm comfortable writing about them even like that, but I know I can handle them from personal experience, and the fact that it's fictional would take some of the emotional sting out of it for me, even if it wouldn't for the reader.

    I know that last statement sounds pretty cold, but sometimes a writer who writes about serious issues has to tackle these things when they come up, and I certainly hope that I could write about them and do the issues justice.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    There is nearly always some research required for any writing project of any significance. I have a broad background in mathematics and the physical sciences, and that gives me the basis to know what I need to research more fully, and the tools to use the information I find (I write science fiction, for the most part).

    What I won't take on? A project that doesn't inspire me. Simple as that.
     
  8. erik martin
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    erik martin Contributing Member

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    I've worked in social services for about 15 years and law enforcement for five and owned a bookstore for 2, so with crime and psychological stuff I'm pretty comfortable. I'm also something of a history buff with an interest in early civilizations, but have other areas in which I'm pretty well versed. I grew up mainly reading SF/fantasy, but not exclusively and have been trying my hand at those genres, plus westerns and horror, as well as some non-fiction.

    However, even things that I know well, I might find it desirable to have some reference material at hand just to make sure the details are right.

    As for things with which I would not be comfortable--well things that bore me are harder for me to write than things that interest me. I am not terribly interested in advanced math and physics, though I have some educational background there. Disciplines like economics, business, accounting and such don't do it for me. For a time I was writing articles on a semi-pro basis that dealt with job hunting, after five or six of them, I was ready to poke my eyes out.
     
  9. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Any and all ... and none. I am a research hound. I have read so much 'stuff' that has blatant errors that, even when I am solidly familiar with a topic, I'll probably do research at some point just because I don't want to be the one that someone reads and says, "That writer doesn't know squat! Said 'thus and so' and that is soooo wrong!"

    But I have had a fairly expansive live so far and am pretty comfortable writing about almost anything - extemporaneously, as it were. But, as I said, I do love to delve into the dusty tomes of the past to learn still more about anything!
    Read on! Write on.
     
  10. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    I only write about subjects that fascinate me deeply, and I tend to know a great deal about these subjects through my natural interest in them. I'd never bother to write about things that don't interest me, no matter how popular they might be, or force stuff into my stories because I think other's might want/expect it to be in there -- why should I.
     
  11. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    I get uncomfortable writing about other countries and cultures, since it's hard to get a grasp of them without actually living there. I fear I will make errors that will be blatantly obvious to the locals, or that it will seem like a two-dimensional stereotype. I don't want to write a novel where all Russians are called Ivan, Boris, or Olga, eat borsjtj for dinner, and walk around with vodka bottles inside their fur coats while discussing the merits of socialism.

    And yet, different cultures and perspectives belong to the subjects that fascinate me the most.

    I don't consider pornography to be a lower form of litterature. If I ever write a pornographic novel, I'll publish it under the same name as my other writings. If it offends people, it'll be so much funnier, but I doubt many people will raise an eyebrow where I live.

    As for political subjects, it depends on how you define political. Many, many subjects are political in a wider sense, like a story about the consequences of over-population, or a story that brings up gender issues, or one which deals with religious fanaticism. But I wouldn't write a piece of fiction which just hammers home the message of a specific political group. That I would consider beneath me.

    There are other things I wouldn't write, like scenes with extreme torture or cruelty, or child abuse, but not because of moral issues. They would just take too hard a toll on me.
     
  12. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Bravo, HorusEye. Bravo
     
  13. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Random comfort zone list:
    • Upper middel class/Upper class/Academia: That my background, and the neutral cultural background of my character. But if the work or area of study inst the focus of the story it doesn't matter if we talking about a master of science or medical student or linguistic.
    • Violence: I'm good at writing the gritty painful type of violence and got a black belt.
    • Sex: I really like sex and in many different forms, across the spectrum. And I can write it and have it reviewed without blushing. Much.
    • Horror/fantasy/scifi: Here is where my heart lies.
    • The ordinary: I'm really good interweaving the ordinary with the thrilling, and can write scenes about dish rags.
    • My own culture. I got nothing against digging where I stand. The grass isn't greener on the other side. No matter of I'm talking about subcultures or about northern Sweden.
    • Mental illness: It can be an awesome part of a story, and I have enough knowledge, experience and respect for it to use it.

    Random list of things I avoid but would be comfortable with
    • Romance: In the most common pink version. Just not my cup of tea.
    • Coolness: I'm a really cool person IRL, :p I don't have to make up stories where the main characters are COOL.
    • Exoticism: I'm sure the ones I think live exotic lives make a much better job of writing about them the me. Writing about what close to me will be exotic to other people.

    Random list of thing in not that comfortable with
    • Men: For a lot of reasons 90% of my friends and really close friends are male, and I so fed up with how much men I got in my life and so few women that I don't feel comfortable with having any more men even fictional in my life.
    • ...
    • ...
    • ...
    • Oh! Came up with one more. I got noting against being open about my life in non fiction, but self biographic material or self biographic material mixed with fiction is a big nono. I can use experiences close to mine or a reflection but never pass that line.
     
  14. afrodite7
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    afrodite7 Senior Member

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    -comfort zones for me would be
    -bad parents,teenagers,angst,horror,supernatural/fantasy novels,drama,love,people with serious issues,the city,suspense

    -now,i can only write non-fantasy/non-sci-fi in short stories or novellas.it gets too boring for me
    -can't write: in country settings,everything happy,'street novels',aka tacky crude books for black people (despite being black myself)

    -now i can write about adults a bit,but i don't think too much especially since i am not a parent
     
  15. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Like w176, I've been blessed/saddled with a particular English/colonial backround which makes it pretty difficult to write from the heart about a character growing up in an underprivilaged environment.

    Added to this, I went to an English boarding school attended mostly by diplobrats and European aristocrats, and I've been an expat in a non-English-speaking country for the last 26 years--as you may imagine, it's hard for me to write about contemporary everyday family life in England.

    BUT since I visit England frequently, I like having characters who are returning after an absence, let's say, or short stories set in the seventies based on my memories--it's amazing how distance sharpens the images.

    Also, when you do actually live in a country where girls are thrown out in the snow by their fathers if they get pregnant, or people can literally starve or die if they are sick or lose their job (thankfully this is getting less, but still happens, unfortunately) etc, historicals come easily, and I think I can give my work a more 'realistic' feeling.
     
  16. Hartnell
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    Hartnell Member

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    An interesting question. I have worked as a nurse for over 16 years in various shapes and forms and nursing is pretty much what I know about more than anything but I very rarely even attempt to write about it ! I guess maybe it is because writing is my escape from reality. My comfort zone is whatever I feel like writing. I am still experimenting with different genres and styles. Although I do tend to gravitate to horror and fantasy and a little bit of humour.
     
  17. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    No comfort zone, only... preferences. I write what I feel like writing. If that means I have to do research, then I will do so. I laugh whenever I think about the hours of research I sometimes do to understand a concept in order to write just a single sentence.

    I tend to stay within fantasy because I like to play god. In the rare occasion I take a break from there, the only things I can truly write about without doing research are autobiographies and personal beliefs. There is simply too much to know for me to be able to write anything else without the least bit of research.

    I write what I feel inspired and motivated to write, so I do not have to worry about accepting projects. When I decide to write, I do not mind doing a little research for the purpose of the story.

    Again, I do not have to worry about accepting a project because I only write what I feel like writing. When I feel like writing something and have the motivation to do so, there is nothing I would not write.
     
  18. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    I write about very little I've personally experienced and my readers haven't complained about me not getting it. On the contrary, I've even gotten some compliments from readers surprised I captured a feeling I had no experience with.
     
  19. cmcpress
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    cmcpress Senior Member

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    Well as i think i've mentioned before i've been attempting to write a speculative science fiction book set in China about a pharmaceutical company. In order to write more convincing Chinese Characters and to have a more thorough understanding of the culture i decided to take up Mandarin Chinese.

    Serendipitously, the opportunity to work in China has come up and hopefully i'll have the chance to go over there and work next year. Regardless of whether the book comes about as planned i'm sure it'll be an awesome experience that may influence other stories.

    I think the more you're willing to put yourself out of your comfort zone, the more rich your experiences become and the more you can put into writing.

    As for what's out of my comfort zones thematically - i would say very little would be taboo - But i certainly wouldn't feel comfortable writing about abuse, but that wouldn't stop me.

    I would hesitate to write about something i had little or no experience of - such as working on an oil rig - without research into the terms, the way people talk, the short hand, the little rituals. Another example would be Soldiers for example - as i have no idea what their acronyms mean or the little bits of language -such as "theatre" for battlefield, etc.

    I'd definitely hesitate to put myself in harms way in order to get a story.
     
  20. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    A grand answer.

    I'm very uncomfortable writing about the things that deeply interest me. Hate to do it an injustice, so rarely do it. This is a recipe that produces very glib efforts:cool:

    A private(ish) person, would be uncomfortable producing anything that looked too auto-biographical.
     
  21. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, as a writer you're a giver. Your reader pays for your book with an expectation to be given something in return. If you got stage fright, maybe use a pen name?
     
  22. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've though of that.
    A pen name doesn't overcome self-disgust.;)
    Which is not to say I can't or won't draw on personal experience, only that I feel the need to present it obliquely.
     

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