Sunday, March 29, 2015

Write What You Know? OH NO!

My husband was reading a section of the historical fiction novel I'm working on. After reading it he said something along the lines of, "I really like the scene between the father and daughter, but the fight scene before it I didn't like as much." Then he paused and said, "Don't take this the wrong way, but I thought that writers should only write what they know. So, why are you writing war scenes?"
Now, grant it, I had asked him to read it and tell me his HONEST thoughts, so I can't get too bothered (but I did have to count to ten before I responded).

It made me stop and ponder the notion of only writing what we know. I first heard it at a writer's conference. A well-meaning publishing professional stated that authors needed to stick with they know. That it makes the writing more "authentic." It makes theory. A lot of our life experiences show up in our writing. Also, I'm sure that agents and editors reading disingenuous stories might make their eyes glaze over.

But every story I write is new to me. Sure, character experiences might be similar to different experiences in my own life, but each story is unique with complicated plots, unique settings, distinct time periods, etc. I am not an expert at all of the story lines, but I see it as a good thing. Writing what is unfamiliar to me allows me to grow as a writer. I research, then I research some more. I read. A lot. I make plot notes, and setting notes, and conflict outlines.

So, I'm taking my husband's comments as a challenge. I will rework the war scene. I will rethink it, interview a few men who've been in the trenches, maybe even watch a war movie or two. Then I will revise and make it better. I will keep doing that until I get it right.

Because writing what I "don't" know is a challenge. And it's a challenge I gladly accept.


1 comment:

  1. Janice, one of the greatest war novels ever written was by a man who had never seen a day in battle. Ever heard of 'The Red Badge of Courage' by Stephen Crane? True story. Research it for the next time a well-meaning critic spouts the 'write only what you know' mantra.