Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Who knows?

"Write what you know," may be the one piece of writing advice that the most people - regardless of whether they're writers or not - know about.  Whether it's good advice or not is complicated.

It is good on the level of understanding that, for a number of things, someone will know better than you, so you don't want to insult their experience.  You might not be prepared to delve deep into army life if you're a lifelong civilian writing out of pro-war or anti-war feelings.  Don't write about how young people are dumb brutes only interested in sexing and drugging and Candy Crush if you never talk to anyone under 50.  The makers of Forrest Gump surely pissed off members of Students for a Democratic Society when they portrayed the SDS as being all about posturing and girlfriend abuse, although this group wasn't numerous enough to put a dent in its box office.

On the other hand, if you have an urge to write about a subject, that should be followed.  Why?  Because it's largely work you do with your mind.  And your mind, your imagination will go where it goes.  Trying to cut it off is making poor use, non-use, of your best tool.

Tom Cobb used to tell us, "Know what you write about."  Which is good advice.  Educating yourself as to the subject you want to explore is good practice, and potentially can be fun.  Of course what kind and how much research you do depends on what you want to do.

With that in mind, here's some research I've been doing.


susan said...

A couple of years ago a co-blogger I'd become online friends with sent me a manuscript of a novel she'd been writing over the course of several months. Now this lady was a very good blogger and an excellent humorist who wrote posts that veered from being thinly veiled stories about her own family into wildly funny, and totally fictional escapades. The novel she sent me was about a young woman who awoke to find herself in rural England in the midst of wwii, a place and period she had learned about from watching BBC America. To say it didn't work too well would be an understatement. I did try to be diplomatic even as I explained how english people expressed themselves.

Tom Cobb's advice was good.
Taxidermy, hmm?

Ben said...

The old cliche about how the US and the UK are separated by a common language does have some truth to it, and of course there are other cultural differences as well. It sounds filike all this tripped your friend up.

What I might not have gotten across is that there's a place for poetic license in the absence of direct knowledge. You have to know what you don't know, though, and be prepared to fill in the gaps. Maybe just with pizzazz!

Taxidermy. Yes. There's something dreamlike compelling about it.