Thursday, 27 March 2008

Write What You Know

Truthfully, I don't think I know much. I've lived in small towns most of my life (although there are a wealth of stories right there), I haven't traveled much, especially in my own country, and I don't watch lots of television or read many newspapers, so I often fall behind on what's going on in the world. Sometimes I wonder what I should write about if I need to write what I know.

I took a class at the conference called "Research is Not Just for Historicals", taught by Julie Coulter Bellon and Michele Paige Holmes. This great class was full of interesting advice on how to do research and organize the research you do. With today's technology, the resources are endless.

Some of the suggestions included, having maps up on the wall so you can consult them when you need your characters to go places. This way you get the directions right and readers familiar with the location will not find errors which could have been prevented. Watching videos about different locations helps get a feel for the place. They also suggested children's non-fiction books as good research material because the information in them is simplified and usually in a novel, just the basics are needed anyway. The internet is another great resource, but we were reminded to verify everything we find with at least two other sources since internet information can be posted by anyone. News stories and documentaries can also spark new ideas for stories.

I get a little lazy when it comes to research, but they made it seem fun. Julie did remind us to check everything thoroughly, doing enough to tell the story well. The purpose of research is to tell the story. And in the end, we have to remember we are writing fiction and we need to blend that fiction with reality, not the other way around.

All my life I've been an avid reader, devouring anything that sparks my interest. When I sit back and take stock of what I do know, I find the list is longer than I realize, and with research, I can discover many new things. So when I hear the phrase "Write what you know," it just reminds me I can write anything I am willing to learn about, and that opens a whole world of possibilities.


Jennifer said...

During that same time block, I was in the class about writing magazine articles by Annette Lyon and she talked about a lot of the same things. When she was talking about writing what you know, she gave us some examples of things that she knows that she didn't think were very exceptional, and I got to thinking and realized there are things that I know because of my own unique experiences. And, of course, she said that anything we don't know, we can research until we do know it.

Don said...

I probably should have gone to the research class, too. Despite the fact that I'm trying to write what I know, I'm finding that it's more fun to write about what I want to know.

The toughest part is admitting that I'm really writing what I knew, and facing the fact that some things have changed in the last twenty(!) years.

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