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.


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