Write What You Know
By Gail Gaymer Martin
Everyone has heard the phrase “write what you know,” and yet writing -whether contemporary or historical – takes research, no matter how much you know.
Keeping your story accurate is important to give readers a sense of truth when they read your work. One significant error can cause readers to distrust everything you say. It is easy to question the write-what-you-know statement, because if all writers did that, where would the thrillers be, the murder mysteries, the fantasies, the paranormal novels?
But write what you know is a reminder that writers can improve their fiction but using their personal knowledge to enhance the story. By providing a few details using sense imagery, emotion, experience and insight, they bring novels to life far greater than if they leave out those details. Warning: avoid overdoing the descriptions. Select only purposeful and significant personal experiences or emotions and use it for the betterment of the book. Also, when using real towns and places, avoid negativity.
Which details does this cover?
∙ Familiar settings: Capture the language, local ambiance and personality of the town using the five senses, significant traditions and activities in the town or city, interesting characters, real businesses, parks, and stores, history that influences or impacts the present.
Example: Besides making it real, people who live in this city or who have visited this city enjoy reading about a place they know and have been. Increases book sales.
∙ Career or Work Experiences: Abilities and/or education needed, descriptive details important to the story or to bring it to life, attributes needed to do this job, the negative and/or positive nature of the career, and how it impacts the character’s personal life.
Example: Computer programmer is needed to dissect a code to save the world.