Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Writing what you know

I was reading a profile of Tabitha King in Writer's Digest the other day, and she spoke about that old writers' adage, "Write what you know."

She said, "My feeling is 'know what you write.'"

I absolutely agree. After all, I never lived in the Middle Ages, yet I've written 25 books and novellas set in that time period. I've never lived in the Dark Ages or Restoration, Regency and Victorian England, either, yet I've also written books set in those times. Heck, I'd never even been to England until I'd set several books there.

So how did I have the nerve to do it?

Well, my readers haven't been there, either. And I research. I want to know what I'm describing, whether it's clothes or food or social customs. I don't know everything of course, but I try very hard to be correct about what I include in my books.

I also write what I know emotionally. My family moved a few times in my childhood, so I know the feelings of being new and trying to fit in (or not). That's why I tend to write stories of "the stranger rode into town" ilk. That's also why I think "home" is not a place so much as a feeling of security and acceptance.

I also understand the stoic, stiff-upper-lip response to troubles. That's my folks. And that's why my heroes often fall into that category -- because I know full well that just because somebody isn't weeping or wailing doesn't mean they aren't devastated.

So by all means, write what you know -- but it shouldn't limit creativity. You can learn what you don't know, and I bet most people already know a lot more than they think.


Christine d'Abo said...

Tabitha King is an amazing writer. I love her books almost as much as her husbands. And it's very true what you said. I try to be true to the emotional responses that my characters are going through. I know when it's right or not, and I have to listen to my gut.

Margaret Moore said...

I haven't actually read anything by her, but I'm going to! I think I'll start with PEARL, rather than the latest. According to the article, she finished the book for a friend who passed away. Or is there another you'd recommend I read first?

Anonymous said...

Write what you know! Know what you write! This turn about of phrase has revealed the reason why I sometimes have problems with my writing. Although I research the subject, I don't always fully know it. Writing according to emotional knowledge opens up a whole new dimension. Thank you for the insight. Helen in Australia

Kimber said...

It seems so cliche but that was the best bit of advice I received.

I love historicals (that and business books) so the first thing (I wouldn't call it a book) I wrote was a historical (yes, there were a few business lessons in there LOL).

The editorial service I sent it to asked me why if I had a background in business and a love for it, I wasn't writing contemporaries based in the business world.

Best writing advice I ever received.

Christine d'Abo said...

I really enjoyed one of her older novels called Small World. I'm not even sure if you can get it anymore, but it might be in the library. I haven't read any of her newer books, but I think I may have to pick Pearl up.