Should we write what we know? When I started reading about the craft of writing, this was one of the most repeated tips I came across. I read it in different guises but it seemed everyone was saying the same thing: Write what you know. It puzzled me and, I admit, scared me too. What did I know? Precious little it seemed to me. Still I was driven to write. In my head characters would speak and make it imperative that I note down what they said. Their words conveyed struggles and emotions and opinions – sometimes, opinions that I did not hold with but were intrinsic to their beliefs. At odd moments, things that happened in my life would trigger a possibility, a scope of something bigger and wider than that moment or incident. It was a story promise, one that I could develop into a book. Did I need to know all that was needed to write all of it? no. Then should I let that spark of imagination die out and let myself be held back because of that?
Today I have romance and fantasy author Devika Fernando on my blog talking about the ever lasting argument. Here’s what I asked her
Do you agree with the oft voiced opinion that one should write what one knows? Why or why not?
Take it away, Devika! We would love to hear your take on it.
Ah, the dreaded question that divides writers… 😉 My answer is a mix of YES and NO. Here’s why. Reasons why it helps to write what you know: If something is familiar to you, it is much easier to write about. That’s an advantage if you’re just starting as an author. There’s not so much thinking involved and you don’t need a lot of research, so you can write faster and ‘feel at home’ in the story. Also, knowing your way around a certain topic allows you to dig deeper instead of just scratching the surface and offering common truths and obvious facts. On the other hand, sometimes you may think you know something but end up presenting wrong facts because you hadn’t bothered to verify them. With “Saved in Sri Lanka”, some of my writing flowed really well and reads authentic and captivating because I actually know some of the things personally and injected a little of myself into the Sri Lankan heroine. Then again, nobody so far has complained that my foreign heroines are less credible and fleshed out… Reasons why it’s silly to think you have to stick to what you know: We’re writers, and imagination is our lifeblood. How dull would books be if everyone only wrote about what they knew? What about all the stories revolving around fantasy and the paranormal, around legends and mythical creatures? Or just take historical fiction: None of the authors has actually experienced the era in the past, but they manage to bring it alive nonetheless. Likewise, not every author has experienced murder, abuse, addiction or kidnapping or a forced relationship. It is part of their strength that they know how to identify with the victims and villains without actual experience. Sometimes the ‘what you know’ refers to the main genre an author starts with / sticks to and not to the topic and theme. I tend to agree that it helps not to write across all imaginable genres because we all have our strength(s) and can flourish more in those areas. Then again, there is nothing wrong with branching out, testing your limits and making new experiences. After all, we would never have the world’s most ingenuous inventions if people had stuck to what they knew… Let me conclude with this sentence: You don’t necessarily have to write what you know, but you have to know how to present it, and you have to enjoy writing it.
I agree with Devika. Sometimes authors have to write more than what they know. Internet has made it very easy for us to research a host of topics. We can browse and find books which hold the subject matter of our interest. I must add here that there are things we as humans know universally. We all know what happiness, surprise, anger, fear feels like. Emotions are universal and emotions are what make the story powerful. Where research of settings and the technical aspects you put into writing must be believable, at the same time, more important in the writing is the character and their story. Story is king and emotions are the royal accessories. Your story kingdom, however well etched out from the research point of view will be bereft without those 🙂
If you are an author, have you faced this question? What’s your take on write what you know?
This post is a part of the blog tour held by the Book Club.
Almost as soon as Devika Fernando could write, she imagined stories and poems. After finishing her education in Germany and returning to her roots in Sri Lanka, she got a chance to turn her passion into her profession. Having lived in Germany and in Sri Lanka with her husband has made her experience the best (and the worst) of two totally different worlds – something that influences her writing. Her trademark are sweet, yet deeply emotional romance stories where the characters actually fall in love instead of merely falling in lust. She draws inspiration from everyone and everything in life. Besides being a romance novel author, she works as a self-employed German web content writer, as a translator, and as a faithful servant to all the cats, dogs, fish and birds in her home. What she loves most about being an author is the chance to create new worlds and send her protagonists on a journey full of ups and downs that will leave them changed. When she’s not writing, she’s reading or thinking about writing.
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