One: Write What You KnowA Lesson by Meredith Greene
If you don't know it, research it until you do.
"Write what you know... please."
In my high school English class our borderline-highbrow teacher would feelingly repeat the above phrase after giving each assignment. "I am thoroughly tired," he would continue, "Of reading of spacemen and dragons and soldiers and knights who are baseless shadows of what they could be."
Therein lies the juicy meat of this particular point; writing some slip-shod, ill-researched poor example of a book not only tortures the reader but flings a blot onto the face of Literature, itself. Well-read audiences groan upon reading tripe; their lament is not only for the wasted time but for the literary crime of ruining a character's potential with ignorant writing. When a writer knows the subject and characters of his/her book well, it shows. Likewise, even the most rudimentary readers can discern when said author is talking through their hat, or "writing by the seat of their pants". Even science-fiction writers must research and read voraciously of fellow and past writers' work in order that their book comes off with a measure of credence. Writing what you know is the main difference between a good book and a laughingly terrible one.
There are a variety of ways this can be accomplished; the easiest by far is personal experience. Writing your own story (or that of those close to you) allows one to grasp and pen accurate detail, correctly quoted responses to questions, the nuances of human expression and scenes can be thus painted with startlingly-familiar shades. My first fiction novel Draw Me a Picture was based on the lives of real people, though mixed around a bit; pieces of the lives of one set of friends and family were selected and attached to those of others, well-spiced with carefully-researched details.
In many cases research can stand in where personal experience fails. For instance, I spent a solid month just counting out blocks from one location in my book to another, estimating--using different circumstances and Google Maps--just how long it would take the characters to get from point A to B, as well as discovering what state they'd arrive in. Some long-standing natives of the city mentioned were consulted and I was elated to find that the research I'd done was accurate. Said folks were also pivotal in providing local euphemisms to place the scene without having to constantly refer to the city's name.
Standing observation is the next method in line to aid in 'knowing' a scene or character, and by it have many good details enhanced past books. Such activity can be as simple as sitting on a park bench and watching folks walk by, taking note of their expressions, body language and clothes. This method is a bit more difficult than personal experience and research, as the observer/writer is left wondering about the lives of the people in the witnessed scene. A goodly amount of creative guessing is then needed in order to 'fill in the blanks', but that is part of the fun of writing and helps the observations notated translate into character personality, scene details and real actions.
Added on July 22, 2011
Last Updated on July 22, 2011
AboutAuthor, columnist, freelance writer, book reviewer & poet. I review non-fiction books for The San Francisco Book Review & The Sacramento Book Review publications. Read my free course Top Ten Ti..