1. Misha94
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    Misha94 New Member

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    Writing what you know

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Misha94, Apr 27, 2013.

    Do you limit yourself and write only that which you know or do you like to stretch yourself further and try writing from the POV of someone who you have nothing in common with (be it genderwise, agewise or culturewise)?
    Are you supposed to only write what you know?
    I don't think I would really count fantasy as something you don't know because it is a world you have created and know the details of.
     
  2. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I write what I know - which is people. I've interacted with and observed people of all ages, races, genders, finances - they're really not different from each other. The difference is only when you look at their experiences and how they, as individuals, dealt with them. That's when it gets fascinating, both to watch and to write about.
     
  3. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    Writing what you know doesn't mean to only write what you have physically experienced - it also includes what you have learned through study or research.

    e.g. I'm currently working on the second draft of my WIP and my research included: reading medical journals; watching documentaries; following blogs; joining forums to ask questions; physically going to the areas scenes are set in - or, if that wasn't possible, then ones that I figured had a similar atmosphere; brushing up on relative laws and politics; and tracking down and eventually interviewing people when I felt that books/TV/the internet didn't give me the information I needed to know. One of the people I contacted was via the PM system on this website, actually, and he was an amazing help. Others I interviewed in person. ​

    I only write what I know. If I don't know it and want to write it then I will go away and educate myself on it first. By the time I come to write it I can safely say it's something I "know".
     
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  4. suddenly BANSHEES
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    suddenly BANSHEES Contributing Member

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    I try to make my characters' personalities and experiences very different from my own, but I draw a lot from the people I've met and the things they've been through. I also try to brush up on my history when I write about a time period I didn't live through. Like Yoshiko pointed out, the right kind of research can go a long way.

    In general, I try to distance myself from what I write as much as possible, but that's just personal preference. I'm afraid I'd slip into making some kind of idealized author avatar if I got too close, and I would make a really lousy character.
     
  5. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    Honestly, I just write. I don't put any thought into this.

    But, with that said, I am sure what "I know" comes out subconsciously, whether I want it to or not.
     
  6. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think the whole "write what you know" thing originally meant "write what you have personal experience of." This works in some cases. Some writers have had very interesting lives and their experiences fascinate readers. Joseph Conrad, for example, was a sailor in the French and British merchant marine for twenty years before writing his first book, and he'd personally visited much of the world (Southeast Asia, Africa, South America) at a time when most English readers hadn't been more than twenty miles from where they'd been born. He had stories to tell. Ernest Hemingway had been an ambulance driver in Italy in World War I, and wrote A Farewell to Arms based on his experiences there. So it worked for them, and for many others.

    Of course, it doesn't work for everyone. It seems there have been many thousands of young, struggling writers in New York City, and they've all been taught to write what they know, so we now have many thousands (well, too many for me to bother counting) of novels about young, struggling writers in New York City. That fictional territory has been pretty well explored, colonized, worked over, paved into Wal-Mart parking lots, etc. Dull.

    "Write what you know" is another one of those rules that's too easy - easy to the point of being useless. I wouldn't tell a novice to "write what you know." I'd say, "Write what you love." People love different things, so encouraging writers to write what they love helps create a wide variety of literature. And as long as writers are willing to research and imagine their worlds in detail, they'll be able to provide their readers with very rich and rewarding stories.
     
  7. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    Agreed.
     
  8. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not all his novels were about travel, though. Or was he also a secret agent? :p
     
  9. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I choose to interpret "write what you know" in a more emotional sense. If you know narcissistic abuse of power in your high school English teacher, you "know" that for writing a politician, or a parent, or a boss, or an army officer. If you know geeky obsessed enthusiasm with relation to video games, you "know" that for writing about a research scientist or a clothing designer. And so on.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Write what you know mostly means leverage your personal experiences. Emotional context will be more convincing if you have experienced similar situations in your own life. It does not, repeat not, mean don't stretch yourself! What you don't know, research.

    If you have suffered the loss of a friend or lover, reach down inside and use that experience, Expose the scars and the pain, and the healing, to the reader as your story allows.

    The advice is not, "Don''t write what you don't know." Yes, you have to proceed more cautiously when you are reaching past your areas of expertise, but don't wrap yourself in a cocoon of bubble wrap, either.

    When you're om less familiar ground, research. Rinse and repeat.

    Write what you know, then know what you write.
     
  11. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I agree with a lot that's been posted here. I think a lot of it depends on the subject. I often fall back on the stuff I know. Example: which instrument will I give my character, a guitar or a flute? Well, I've never even touched a flute, but have played the guitar since I was 6, so (if it's all the same to the plot etc) in most cases I'd go with the guitar. Having 1st-hand experience about something like that just gives you a little extra that just reading about it won't.

    Then again, I've never been a girl (really), and the immediate future shows no technology that would allow mind transfer, so the only thing I can do to learn to write female characters better is research. Females of all ages have always fascinated me a great deal so I like writing them, especially because I used to suck at it so horribly, but I'd like to think that nowadays I can write a pretty convincing heroine (I suck the least at writing females of ages 15-30; the inner workings of girls under 13 are still a bit of a mystery to me). Of course, having a girl as a writing partner has helped a great deal, she's managed to weed out the worst ideas/blunders, but I guess you could call that a form of research on my part. There's no such thing as too much research, but there comes a point when you know enough and just have to take the plunge. And then do some more research.

    And then there's expanding your experiences: going out and joining a muay thai club for the first time when you're writing a thai-boxer is a form of research too. Then you can slowly evolve from "doing research" to "writing what you know."
     
  12. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    Ooohhh I like that a lot! I agree completely!



    That's always what I took "write what you know" to mean. I never really took literally. I haven't experienced many of the things my characters have. I do however understand the emotions that are brought about by these things inside and out.
     
  13. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It'd actually be quite boring to write characters who were clearly me, especially because even I myself have trouble existing in the same room with myself. I wrote a couple of blog posts about this in the blog of T.Trian and I, and I was reflecting the processes of writing a Filipino man and an obese woman. I love the research part, and I think that's also why I often want to write about things I don't know much about yet. I've learned a new language because of a character (and planning to become fluent at it), tasted new foods, gone to interesting places and met new people so as to learn about writing someone else, stuff like that.

    I'd definitely encourage everyone to also write about things that they are not so familiar with. That's so nice about writing: one's social and intercultural competence develops, one learns more about diversity, understands better where some people come from, and, all in all, I think writing, in the best case, encourages a person to make the most out of their time on this muddy rock.
     
  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ...i write what i know and know about... and what i imagine, or dream... and, since i've been a people-watcher and voracious reader from earliest childhood, i know enough about things and people and places i don't know first-hand, to be able to write about them believably...

    that's probably best for most folks who want to write... but see above for what you can know...

    then you've answered your own question, haven't you?
     
  15. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    The other danger in this is having a reader say, "I couldn't stand that character."
     
  16. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Keep in mind that what you know isn't, or at least shouldn't be, stagnant. A good corollary would be, "read what you don't know."
     
  17. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    That's how I'd react if I had to read a story starring me. "Why is she whining all the time? ugh, get a gd grip woman! ok, I'm not interested in your PMS shitfits! Please stop using that excuse. Why doesn't she ever do anything interesting? Ahahaha, spaz." *puts the books down*
     
  18. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    By understanding a thing or process that is to play an important role in your story you allow your imagination to freely run out onto the possibilities of the story rather than get stuck on what/how that something might/would work. Education frees the mind.
     

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