21 June 2011

forget writing what you know; believe what you write

the old adage on writing has always been to write what you know. (which is strange, really, because as a child, when I did most of my fiction writing, not only did I not know much, but I always wrote about things I did not know –supermarket trolleys with a life of their own, magical birds that could talk and save you from all kinds of disasters, boarding schools and midnight feasts.) perhaps ‘know’ should not be taken so literally, perhaps it is more about ‘knowing’ the characters and places well enough to bring them to reality for someone else.

according to stephanie mooney, you need to “believe what you're writing. Know it in the pit of your stomach. Make it real.” she notes that this is how jk rowling makes you believe in quidditch and wingardium leviosa, or how jr tolkien convinces you of the characteristics of middle earth. so, you need to believe, and believe with a passion. (for those interested in writing, I recommend you read her entire post, which is quite short, but totally packed with goodies regarding writing your way to genuine characters and plot.)

mel makes a similar point, noting that you can use your own experiences and “slide sideways into something unrelated”, rather than limiting yourself to the biblical sense of what you know. I’ve been stuck with my writing for awhile, and I know it has a lot to do with me not creatively expanding my horizon, mired in the very little that I ‘know’. my characters, places and events are boring me, because they are too close to what I know, there is no space for them to grow into their own skin.

it is a little scary to suddenly throw my characters into unknown territory, to flounder along with them as they make sense of the new. but hey, they say it’s the journey that’s more important than the destination, so let’s see where the floundering lands us!

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