You know when you don’t know what to write and people say, “Write what you know”? Yeah, I’m kind of starting to understand that. But writing doesn’t have to be about getting what you know and what you’ve experienced out into the world for others to see. It can be about you learning and experiencing something new.
But I am starting to get it. In my book there is a car crash, and I didn’t have much trouble writing that scene because it was emotional and for some reason I find emotional scenes easier. I don’t know why. Maybe I read too many dramatic books.
Who am I kidding? You can never read too many books.
Anyway, I was writing a scene about a car crash, and I’ve never actually been in a car crash, so I don’t know if everything in that scene was correct. I wrote it as I imagined it would be in real life. Based off of every detail I’d heard in stories of car crashes and my friends’ and family’s experiences.
Well, yesterday I was on a trip with my family and our car got rear-ended on the highway. Then another car rear-ended them, and another rear-ended them, and so on… so now I actually got life experience with that. Don’t worry, everyone is okay.
The funny thing is, and this is probably because I’m crazy, the first thing I thought when the car hit us was, “Oh my god. This is going to be great in my book.”
I guess that’s a great way to twist it. In a bad situation, think about how great it is that you have first hand experience with something to put in your book. At least you will get the facts right. And you have something to build off of .
Then, to make it even more crazy, I saw another car crash while we were standing on the side of the road waiting for a tow truck. Like, I saw the two cars crash together. Again, bad situation that I can put in a book. Because there is also a chapter I wrote where one of the characters watches the car crash, so I guess that’s going to work out too…
Yeah. Never go on the highway the Sunday after Christmas. It’s dangerous.
Now that I’ve had some real-life experience with something, I can write about it honestly. I can put the details of my experience in to my story, and then adjust them to fit the situation that my character is in.
And I have tons of stories like this. Things that are exciting and dangerous that I love telling because it gets people on the edge of their seats. Real-life stories are always the ones that are more interesting when they are told the right way. If there is ever a lull in one of my plots, and I have a real-life experience that I can use to push the plot forward, or develop a relationship between characters, I can just put it in.
You know how I have a journal for all of my ideas? Yeah, I think I wrote a post about that during NaNoWriMo. I also write in there any good real-life stories that I come across. I make sure I write them exactly how they happen. That way when I go to write a scene like that, or I’m fresh out of ideas, I can just go in there and refresh my memory.
But writing doesn’t have to be about the things you know. Sure, I could put all of those experiences I have already come across into a book. I can adjust them and piece them together so that they contribute to the plot. I can write about my home town because I lived there for twelve years. I can write about a writer because I am one. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t only have to write about things you know.
If you want to write a story that takes place in a country you’ve never been to before, do it! You can go visit there, get hands on research. You can watch documentaries about it or do research online or in books. You can meet people from there or who have been there. You can use your writing to open up doors to new experiences for your real life. You know, that reality thing that everyone keeps going on about.
I know, the whole point of writing is to escape into worlds that only exist in our heads. And on paper. And in the heads of those who read about it. But we can’t write to our greatest extent if we don’t know anything about what we are writing. Anything about what we are putting in our worlds. Take advantage of the researching stage of your story. We can live inside our heads but we can also use those worlds as a way to get to other places, too.
Think about it this way. If you only write about what you know, you are pretty much writing about your own life. And that’s not a problem, but if you write several books, based off only what you know now, then they all might sort of blend into one. Nobody wants that. If you’ve felt heart break, and you wrote a book about a heart-broken character, then watch out. Because you might start pulling that character into your next book.
The solution? Try living a little. Yeah, in that reality place. Get some new material to write about. Write what you know, but don’t stop there. Expand your knowledge so that you can write more.
Is your character living in the mountains? Go to the mountains. Can your character ski really well? Try your hand at skiing, and even if you suck at it, you’ve still expanded your knowledge.
And even when you are going after these things to write about, you might actually stumble upon something else that you can use. We were on our way home from the town that my book is based off of when we crashed… coincidence? I don’t know, but now I have two experiences to write about.
So my challenge for you is to write what you know, but don’t limit yourself to that. Write what you know, and then learn more so you can write more. Live in your story but live outside of it too, so you can make the world inside your head all that much more real. And you can write about things that you haven’t experienced, and hope that you never do, but find ways to expand your knowledge on it.
I’ve written several murders. And I’ve written from the perspective of murderers. But I’ve never killed anyone, and I’ve never seen anyone murdered. I use what I know to get there. I’m taking a psychology course at school, so I’m using that to get into the heads of my characters. There are other ways I’m getting into my characters’ heads, but that’s just one. Find something that works for you. Find multiple things that help you to write things as they are in reality.
Read. Especially true stories. Reading is your way of taking in other peoples’ research that can help you in your own story. I’m not saying that you should use what happens in other books in your own, but still absorb all of that knowledge. Maybe you didn’t know much about… I don’t know. Coal mining. And you read a book where there is a mine explosion and in it you learn a lot about coal mining. Maybe, in your next story, you can have something about coal mining in it. About how they have to dust the walls, floor, and ceiling of the tunnels the deeper they go to prevent explosions.
That was a horrible example, but you know what I mean.
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Thank you for reading, and don’t stop writing!