More on Writing What You Know

I am taking a minute.  Because hell froze over.  My boss actually remembered to thank me for doing something.

:deep breaths:

Whew.  Okay, so my crit partner Susan Bischoff (affectionately known as Pot to my Kettle) has made a fantastic and thought-provoking post about the real meaning of the whole “write what you know” trope that writers are always throwing around.  You should go read it.  Go ‘head.  I’ll wait.


So that writer to whom she refers, the one

who was drawn to a particular kind of story that she hadn’t lived, and got so wound up in perfectionist research that she was letting the minutia run the story. Her thinking was much more about what would happen next according to real procedure in the real world, and not so much about telling a story and using the research to color it and fill in the blanks.

Yeah…that would be me.

In my previous writing life, back when I first truly began taking myself and my craft seriously, I was obsessed with FBI procedurals and murder mysteries.  I love them.  I love the set up and the guaranteed conflict.  I love seeing well-crafted villains and take particular interest in criminal profiling.  It’s a pet interest of mine and has been since I discovered it as an undergrad in college.  How many people do you know who actually own a copy of Practical Homicide Investigation?  Let alone who BOUGHT IT FOR THEMSELVES AS A BIRTHDAY PRESENT? If life had gone differently I absolutely would have gone into forensic psychology and pursued a career in profiling.

I read a million blogs of other thriller, romantic suspense, and crime writers, and one thing that overwhelmingly shone through for me is the desire to “get it right”.  Nobody wants to be the writer who writes a story, doesn’t research well enough, and ends up having the FBI do something that they would never do.  So I became obsessed with getting it right, an obsession that was totally fueled by my pet interest anyway.  I wrote seriously twisted and kick ass villains–bad guys that seriously made me question my sanity a time or two.  But the books never went anywhere because I was so worried about “getting it right” and not making the random law enforcement professional who might happen to pick it up roll their eyes.  Instead of focusing on the relationships between the characters and the conflict of the situation in which they found themselves, I worried about whether I was portraying the investigation properly.  All those CSI shows drive me NUTS because they usually get it all WRONG in terms of how it’s done.

It wasn’t until I stepped away from the romantic suspense for a while and took this long jaunt back into the paranormal, where there is no “getting it right” because it’s all my own creation, that I finally started to really grow and find myself as a writer.

Going back to look at what I’m writing and figuring out what it is that I “know” that’s coming through in my work…  I know how to write strong heroines.  Women who get put in impossible situations and rise to the challenge because they have no other choice.  Maybe I didn’t learn that because my fiance was blown up in a car bomb (did that to one heroine).  Or because my dad was kidnapped by military scientists (Embry).  Or because I had a single mom and an absentee god dad who wouldn’t know the meaning of family if it bit him in the ass (Sophie).  But my own life has absolutely taught me strength.  A bit ironically, my mother asked me over Christmas how I got to be so strong.

Because I had to be.   The alternative was unthinkable.

There are, no doubt, other things that I know that come through in my work.  Probably different things in each book.  But that’s what overwhelmingly comes through in ALL because that is what I know.  That is the heart of who and what I am.

And I think my work is the better for it.

What is it that you know that shines in your own writing?

10 thoughts on “More on Writing What You Know

  1. I’m a person of issues. Often not socio-political issues, more like the get some tissues issues, and one of the things I’ve dealt with my whole life is an obsession with appearing outwardly likable, competent, and, above all NORMAL, while inside being a seething mass of fear and pain, trying desperately to keep it together. That’s probably more dramatic than it needs to be, but hey, I’m a writer.

    Once I gave myself permission to really focus on developing the Talent Chronicles, I haven’t been able to let them go, even when they give me shit. And the reason for that is simply that this world is so well suited to that part of me. People running around hiding what makes them different, and because of the difference, hiding those aching vulnerabilities that so appeal to me in fiction.

    I’m not sure that “shines,” but I think that feeling different, scared, not being satisfied with who you are, showing something different to the world, etc., those are common enough traits that maybe it helps people relate and connect with my characters.

    1. EVERYBODY has felt like that at one time or another (and anybody who says different is probably lying). Your characters are absolutely relatable and appealing on that level.

  2. Being sarcastic seems to come easily to me and when I am playing around with my characters in my head they have great voices which seem to disappear when I write them down. It worries me that their voices seem to reappear only during the rewrite but then the first draft is usually more for me about getting the events down – obviously I try to do both simultaneously but it seems to be something of a zigzag.

    I guess the other thing I know about is wondering what the hell I’m doing with my life, then deciding to do something and then having to stick with it through thick and thin (quite a lot of thin). I’m looking forward to making my main character in my WIP do this, poor chick.

    1. Oh, I forgot about languages and travelling. The thrill of a new place or a new language, the sobs when it all goes wrong, the thrill when you finally get your head round it again… Yeah, those probably should have come first… Disorganised person at work over here.

  3. My female main characters never know what the hell they’re doing but go for it anyway. They say the wrong thing, embarrass themselves, and have a lot of guilt that they manage to ignore. They’re boy crazy. They’re stubborn. They have a sister and a best friend that always have their back. They have a bad temper. All these things are me.
    And someone is always a good cook-whether it be actual food or potions- someone can always wrangle a recipe. 🙂

    1. Confession, aside from my personal proclivities, I often write heroes who are neat and tidy and can cook. It’s fiction. I’m allowed. I find those traits incredibly sexy. 😀

      Your heroines are ALSO very relatable to me. I love that they take risks!

  4. My characters always feel like outsiders in some way and they also strive to form strong familial bonds with the people in their lives.

    I didn’t grow up in the tightest family. It’s far from a bad family, but not like the ones I’d see when I’d go over a friend’s house. They actually did stuff together! Probably why I have troubles in the conversational department and why I’m perfectly happy in a corner by myself.

    So yeah, basically everything I write is about me trying to find out where I fit in . . . with superpowers.

    1. That familial bond thing is absolutely something that appeals to me in fiction. Making family out of those OTHER than blood relatives is something I feel pretty strongly about, so that’s a win win IMO in anybody’s work.

  5. A great duo of posts! You guys really had me thinking… I’m not sure what it is in my own life that comes through. Perhaps a bit of family stuff, a bit of romance, a bit of the travel bug… the yearning for adventures out of the ordinary. And it must mean something that I keep sticking at least three different languages into each book?

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