Write What You Know

10 Nov

I Want To Be A Writer Series

We’ve all heard that you should write about the things you know.  But what exactly does that mean?

If you take it for face value, then it’s pretty obvious. You shouldn’t write about something you have no understanding of. Seems simple right? Writing a book or a short story is never that simple.

Let’s say you are writing a story about a fictional character that was a Confederate Soldier in the US Civil War. You know exactly what battle you are going to write about, the uniform that was worn, the weapons used, where the soldier is from, what rank he is, the weather conditions, the horrible living conditions, etc. You know everything you need to paint a clear picture of who your character is, and where and when the story is taking place. You have done your homework. You have everything organized. All of your notes readily available, and you are in your own little writing world ready to get to work.

Great, now you have everything you need to write the bones of the story. But what about the flesh and blood, the things that put the life into your story? This is the point where you go from being a journalist, that states just the facts, to a writer that creates the world journalists would want to write about. Knowing all of those facts are only the beginning. You must get to know your characters on a personal level that is so deep, you can close your eyes and imagine you are them. You have to know your characters so well that you know exactly what they feel, think, how they react, how they speak, how they move, how they dress, what they look like; you have to know them almost as well as you know yourself. Imagine yourself as Dr. Frankenstein and you are creating your characters from bits and pieces of things everyone can relate to and creating a whole being. Once you have all of those pieces put together, you must give life to those characters.

The easiest way to find those bits and pieces is to look at the people you have encountered in your life. You can take every good quality from a group of people you know and make one great character or you can take every despicable quality and create an evil villain. This is where you write what you know, you write what you have experienced. Telling your readers who someone is will never be enough. You must allow them to experience your character and get to know them as if they are meeting them face to face in the very world you are writing about.

A writer is a painter, only you are using words to paint a picture. Just as a painter doesn’t paint every single detail of a subject in their painting, you must not bore your readers with details that are better left to be experienced and imagined. The beginning of a story is one of the most difficult sections to write simply because you must find that perfect balance of introduction to your character so that your readers can relate to them just enough to want to learn more and continue reading.  But you also must take into consideration the story and finding that perfect starting point.  Always remember that back stories of your characters are extremely important for you know so you can understand your characters.  But that doesn’t mean that your readers must know them.

Everyone has a unique writing style.  Finding your own is one of the greatest gifts you will ever discover as a writer.  It is your comfort zone.  I won’t get into too much detail about what to do and what not to do because I don’t want to hinder someone’s writing style.  The best advice I can give is to read.  Read as often as you can and look at the way other writers push through the areas you struggle with in your writing.

Previous Post of the Series – “Writing Environment”

Next Post of the Series – “Allow the Characters to Speak”


Posted by on November 10, 2012 in IWTBAW Series


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3 responses to “Write What You Know

  1. Susan A.

    November 10, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    Excellent post and so true. It’s not enough to know the bare bone facts, but to really get inside your character’s head. That’s the truly hard part.

  2. conradf2011

    November 10, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    Nice point of view, i’m writing a fantasy novel and have been struggling to relate to certain things. It’s even harder when the setting and characters are pure fantasy.

  3. ahamin

    November 10, 2012 at 8:16 pm

    Valid advice… using a clay of your own with your character is a must and honestly,unavoidable… You don’t have to only write what you know though, like you said, doing your homework and learning about what you want to write is the bone, research is a good stimulus and it opens doors. I say you need to challenge yourself from time to time.
    Reading is the best way to condition your talent.


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