Tuesday, March 19, 2013

More on Writing What You Know and What You Don't Know

     I received a number of comments from my last blog on whether we writers should only write what we know.  Lots of encouragement.  "You go, girl."  "It's good to take risks." "Don't be afraid to do something new."

     One friend really got me thinking: "Do you  feel like there's a difference in how creatively you can write when you write outside of your own experience?"  Now that is a good question.

     In some ways embellishing on a true story is harder than making one up. When I write about things I know, people I know, experiences I have had, I am always fighting the urge to tell it like it really happened.  Also I worry about people recognizing the original event, saying "That's not what happened," or "I know where you got that idea."  It can be inhibiting.

     Here are some other random thoughts:

  • I've noticed that for fiction, true happenings do not always make the richest and most interesting stories. It's necessary to intensify drama and change dilemmas to get a good story arc where characters learn and grow.  That's probably true for some non-fiction also.
  • When I make up stories about people I don't know, having experiences I never had, in places I haven't been, I have to find a hook back to what I do know.  But love is love, anger is anger, fear is fear, whether it is being felt by me or a big brawny man or a child. Hearts pound, throats close, hands shake.  A jungle in Brazil is different from the rain forest in Costa Rica, but I can imagine the smells and sounds of one, having been in the other. So with research and delving deeply I can  make connections. 
  • Good writing always goes back to detail, particulars, honesty.  When I write from experience the  details that really hit the mark are already there.  When I write from imagination I have to push myself more to pick the right ones.
     The process of writing is fascinating.  Writing this blog has made me look more carefully at what I am doing and why.  I'm really glad I started doing it.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Should We Only Write What We Know?

          Beginning writers are always told to "write what you know,"and the advice is usually taken to mean "write about your own life and experiences." I have even been told by a well respected writing teacher that a woman or a man should never try to write from the perspective of the opposite sex--it simply won't ring true.  For the most part, I guess, I've heeded that advice, and I have done what most new writers do.  I've written about family, as I have known it.  I've written about people, thinly disguised, that I have met.  I've written about things that have happened to me or to others in my life, knowing that the details I can bring to the writing will make it come alive.  And most of it, although not all, has been from a woman's point of view.

          But I have begun to re-think this advice.  If writers only write what we know, we would not have  historical fiction, murder mysteries, science fiction or fantasies of any kind.  The twenty year old Stephen Crane, born six years after the end of the Civil War, would never have been able to write The Red Badge of Courage, which depicted the terror of a young soldier in battle so well that veterans of the Civil War were convinced Crane had been there.  So many bold and beautiful stories and novels have come from writer's imaginations and hard research that if we restricted writers to only write about what they know from first hand experience, it would be far too limiting.

         Why am I thinking about this now?  Because my penultimate story (the next to last one I am writing for my novel in linked stories) started out being about a road trip, camping across the United States.  I have done that twice.  But my main character is a retired cop, a veteran of World War Two and a man--none of which I have been.  He meets a Viet Nam veteran.  I haven't been that either.  I'm a little scared to be writing this story, although it seems to be propelling itself where the characters need to go.  Truth to tell, I'm a little scared posting this blog too and exposing my chutzpah in writing about something I don't know from my own experience.  

          But I'm going to do it anyway.  And if it rings true to my first reader (my husband) and my second readers (the seven wonderful writers in my Monday night writing group) then I will include it in my novel of linked short stories.  Let's see what happens.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

I'm Back


     I took a long break from my blog: life, family, weather and lots of travel got in the way. Then it became harder and harder to get back to it. How do you start after three months away?  

     Last week my very good friend presented me with an entree.  She told me that her adult daughter, a wonderful, burgeoning writer, had asked what happened to Florence's Blog?  She said she missed it.  She said she was interested in what I had to say about writing and linking short stories into a novel!  That gave me an incentive to start up again.

     But what to say?

     My writing teacher suggested I should start with what I found useful about writing a blog that focuses on linking short stories. So here's my list of what I like about blogging, and what I hope to offer other people through it:

1.   Blogging makes me concentrate on the linkages in my story/novel.  It was through my blogs that I realized I needed at least one family story for each decade between 1941, when the novel starts, and 2012, when it ends. Otherwise the gaps were too huge. Other novels in linked short stories would have to have another kind of thread going throughout, but you always need a thread.
2.  Blogging makes me think about story arc...not just the individual story, but the arc of the novel from one story to the next. If I haven't done it already, I need to drop in references to former events and characters in other, earlier stories.

3.  Blogging pushes me forward.  When I was writing a blog each week, it made me think actively about my writing, and my novel.  How much was already written?  How much was there still to write?  If I'm not producing I have nothing to write about.

     So now I am ready to put myself out there again.  I am anxious to finish the first draft (almost there, and more about that next time).  I am looking forward to posting regularly over the next months.

      I'm back.