Friday, October 8, 2010

Write What You Know (Part 2)

My last post was about how we can and do write about what we don’t know. Today’s post is about how we end up writing what we do know.

I may write fantasy and science fiction, but I draw from all my experiences. I’ve travelled widely and the places I’ve visited have turned up in my writing. I’ve used the awe I felt wandering the Whispering Gallery of St Pauls in London; the excitement of exploring the ruined Urquhart castle on the shores of Loch Ness; the strangeness of sensing an ancient spirit of the land that clings to the red dust of central Australia; the thrill and honour of a VIP tour to the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea; the agony of the hot sun during a three day camel trek across an Indian desert.

These places exist, but they mean little without our response to them. This is what writing is about: our response to the world and each other. And this is why we write what we know even when we don’t realise it.

I didn't need to travel to be able to write. I could still write fantastical pieces based on the things I know. And what I didn't know, I could learn. A photo of a place we’ve never visited may inspire us to write. Observation, imagination and research are powerful tools. They will carry us to places we’ve never been.

RaShelle said it best in her comment on my last post: “I've always thought of writing what I know as writing what I love.”

Where do you get most of your inspiration from? How much research do you do?

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I’d also like to thank Alison from Wistful Wanderings. She had a competition to celebrate getting to stay in Germany and I won! My goodies arrived in the mail yesterday: “The Pasta Detectives” and two blocks of German chocolate. Sorry, Dezmond, but I’ve already eaten the 71% dark chocolate one. Naughty me.

37 comments:

  1. That's a good source of inspiration! I draw a lot from movies and TV. And for me, it's more about dropping the characters into a scenario and watching their reactions.

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  2. I keep having to tone down some of what I know because a lot of my experiences stem from fast food. Sometimes it feels like I sneak food service into every last story.

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  3. I agree. Even when we write about strange things, it is tempered by our experiences of things we know.

    Most of my inspiration comes from characters walking into my head and they are fleshed out by watching people in public and how they interact with each other...

    It's amazing what you see when you pay attention.

    :-)

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  4. Alex, movies and TV are great inspirations!! And yes, it's the characters that make the difference.

    Jeffrey, lol, that's amusing.

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  5. Misha, watching people is invaluable...and daydreaming. Observation teaches us so much.

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  6. Ah, Lynds, this is exactly why I believe you write the best posts on writing in this blogosphere of ours.

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  7. Dez, because I eat all the chocolate? ;)

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  8. Mmm, dark chocolate.

    I've lived in different places. I draw from those. I draw from my imagination and Oregon. I love living here. Something about it is a constant inspiration.

    You're right. We do infuse what we don't know with what we do. Conversations often inspire me and things I see. I keep a journal and things start to seem to belong together. Eventually they add up to an idea.

    I use art a lot.

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  9. M Pax, keeping a journal is important. it keeps our memories fresh, it focusses our thoughts and observations. Oh yes and art is a GREAT inspiration :)

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  10. So true. I'm so glad the Internet exists - it's so much easier to do research these days - the photographs of various places are invaluable.

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  11. Jemi, the internet is awesome for research. Even for the places I've visited I will always look it up on the internet to refresh the ole memory.

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  12. I do a lot of research but I love doing it. I don't write down things that may be incorrect but I'm also a fiction writer so I may take license with some things for effect. This is a great post, Lynda.

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  13. I write places and situations I don't know, but there is always some form of personal truth in the stories, we remember heartache and funny memories and find ways to weave them in - so, I love your idea of recording your reaction to things this will be great for honest characters. :-)

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  14. Imagination and the powers of the mind are pretty amazing. We can create pretty good representations in our heads of places we've never been. Our creativity as writers transforms this vision into something that becomes part of the readers mental vision as well. Even if we don't really know about the real life thing, our vision can become just as real through skillful wordage.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

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  15. I also write fantasy and have only traveled a little, mostly when I was young. Writing what we know is writing from our perspective of the world, or a place or people. Each of us has our own color wheel. We paint. What I paint differs from what you paint. That is why, every writer can take the same story idea and create a different experience for the reader. And that is why, our readers delight in what we have created.
    I love these post.
    Nancy
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

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  16. My story takes place in countries I've never been (and probably won't be visiting for a while), but that doesn't stop me from doing all the research I do. Even if I wasn't a writer, I'd still read about other cultures because it's so fascinating.

    Most of my inspiration comes from experiences I have had and from watching the news. Anything about certain criminals and I'm there.

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  17. Oh yum.. I love dark chocolate. You're very right.. thanks to today's technology, we can "travel" to so many places without ever leaving home :)

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  18. first off- wow! what an exciting life you've lived! it must have been wonderful to see all those places! and i'm super glad you can funnel all that observation into your work!
    second- i'm loving these posts about writing what we know! it makes me feel like i might actually already know some stuff, when usually i just feel kinda clueless! :)

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  19. Great post!

    I had a crit partner once say to me, "First write what you know then write what you love."

    I took this to mean that beginning writers should start with familiar things/settings/characters to get a feel for their own writing voice and what comes off as authentic on the page. Then it's safer to tread into unknown and fascinating waters while maintaining that authenticity.

    Overall, I do use research, esp. books that have different first-hand responses to what I'm writing about, but no matter how far out the setting, plot or characters, I try to find something in my experiences to help me relate to it. I also find that sometimes just the right first-hand detail can make a scene feel more real than two pages of detailed description.

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  20. I write what I know more than what I don't know. I like writing from life. But if I need to do research there's always Google close at hand.

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  21. I really like what RaShelle said there. "Write what you love" sounds like a much funner/easier idea than "write what you know"

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  22. Excellent advice. Love part two as much as one

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  23. I don't do a lot of traveling, but I figure if I've never been there, I can Google Earth it and feel like I have been. I love what RaShelle said. So true. So true.

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  24. Lynda, I do most of my research on the internet. I loved both these posts a lot. And the picture of the Taj Mahal is beautiful.

    Btw..were you referring to Rajasthan when you mentioned the desert trek on camels.

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  25. Clarissa, research is fun..but sometimes I get distracted and sidetracked ;)

    Charmaine, yes, the personal truth in the stories we write make all the difference.

    Arlee, well said :) We are word magicians.

    Nancy, "we have our own colour wheel". I like that.

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  26. Amanda, research opens up our world and any other kind of exposure .. like as you say, the news.

    WritingNut, it's cool isn't. I don't know what I'd do without the internet.

    Vic, I travelled to escape the humdrum and to experience more of the world because I was such a quiet homebody. Also I think we writers know more than we give ourselves credit for.

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  27. Jennifer, striving for authenicity is important. I guess that's why we hear that advice so often: to write what you know. And research help us do that. I like that you look for first hand responses to what you're writing about.

    Karen, gotta love google ;)

    Jude, generally we get to know the things we love...so it's a win/win ;)

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  28. Melissa, thanks :)

    Susan, google earth is amazing. I recently wrote a short story set in a small town in Scotland. It was based on a true story but it had been years since I'd visited the area. So I google earthed it and got all these amazing aerial shots of the place and zoomed in. I loved it and it triggered so many memories.

    Rachna, We started in Bikaner with the camels and finished in Jaisalmer. I also went to some remarkably remote places where the people weren't used to westerners. My blue eyes caught their interest.

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  29. Inspiration comes from everywhere. It's important to be an unobtrusive oberserver, not just of people and places but of nature. It's all around us all the time.

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  30. I do alot of research in my college classes- so i have not only my life, but college life to pull from for my writing.

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  31. I think we can learn about places and things we are interested in by doing our homework. I love youtube for that. I think I've done research on backgrounds on that thing for every one of my wip. =)

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  32. I agree with Alex - movies and telly definitely give me inspiration. That, and tha tabloids! Have a great weekend, Lynda.

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  33. I definitely draw from personal experience for my writing. Life experiences turn into hands-on research. When I think about the term "write what you know," I often extend it to "write what you want to know."
    Thanks!

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  34. Bish, well said.

    Summer, welcome back :) College would be a brilliant inspiration source.

    Carolyn, I'd not actually thought of youtube as a source for research, but it makes sense. Good one.

    Talli, yep movies & tv and, oh yes, tabloids!

    Paul, yep, write what you want to know is a good way of looking at it :)

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  35. I find I get a lot of my ideas during the night. I have quite vivid dreams. My second novel is a fantasy and initially I started it as challenge. I am a huge J.K.Rowling fan as well as other fantasy writers. I wanted to see if I could write something in the same genre. I was unsure where to start but the germ of an idea came to me in bed one night. From there it just took off and I churned the whole thing out in six months. I am really happy with and fingers crossed it may be my first best seller.

    I love your tip about inspiration from photos. I agree that google earth is invaluable. My second book is partly set in U.S.A where I have never been. So a combination of my trusty old atlas and google earth have helped me enormously.

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  36. Good post. We should write what we know and feel!

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  37. I'm a new follower - great blog! What I've written thus far has not involved a great deal of research. I write urban fantasy, and what I love about fantasy is that you don't have to follow rules, you can make stuff up. In my novel, my main character has visions of places she's never been. Some of the locations I used were placed I have personally been, but others I researched to be sure I got the details right. Gotta love the internet! Anyways, it's great to connect with other writers, so I'd love to have you visit my blog sometime!

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