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.

∙ Talents and Abilities: Practical use of this ability within a situation in the novel, how-to information that forwards the plot, activities that stimulate a scene.
Example: Ability to tie a variety of knots. Use in the scene for a realistic purpose. Later a rope is needed in the scene to help save a character.

∙ Health and Medicine: Familiarity with health issues in the elderly, children, or the family adds realism and the emotion involved hooks readers, knowledge of care facilities, signs of an illness, struggle of a family or person dealing with health, how health affects life.
Example: Character becomes a caregiver to a family member and is aided by a neighbor who is familiar with the illness.

∙ Family Dysfunction: Psychological effects on individuals as caregivers, lifestyle effects, the failures and successes caused by a family dysfunction.
Example: A bi-polar character can wreak havoc on a family situation, drugs and alcohol can cause family dissension and affect family finances. Many situations can create excellent conflict and emotion.

Don’t discount the ability to dig into experiences and personal knowledge as ways to spice up your fiction and create reader confidence and emotion as it connects to their experiences. Read your work in progress and try using some of these ideas to test if these ideas can improve the book. Let me know. I’d love to hear from you.


gailmartinMulti-award-winning novelist Gail Gaymer Martin writes Christian women’s fiction, romance and romantic suspense. Gail has fifty-seven contracted novels with four million books sold. She is the author of Writers Digest’s Writing the Christian Romance. Gail is a co-founder of American Christian Fiction Writers, a keynote speaker at churches, libraries and writers organizations, and presents workshops at conference across the US. She was named one of the four best novelists in the Detroit area by CBS local news. She lives with her husband in a northwest Detroit suburb. Visit her website at http://www.gailgaymermartin.com/.  Her latest,  A Husband for Christmas, released from  Love Inspired in this month.

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