Craig here today. I’ve said many times that the rules of writing fiction are more guidelines. I was struck recently with how many novels feature a main character who is an author. Therefore:
Today’s topic is, “Write What you Know.”
Okay, I just said they’re more like guidelines, so if you want a main character who’s an author, have at it. You should think of why they are an author, and make it fit the story if you can. Do they need to work from home? Could they be a software engineer instead? Maybe an inventor, a masseuse, a drug dealer?
Sometimes we choose our characters because they need to be a front line type. They’re going to encounter a body somewhere along the line, and if they’re solving the mystery it makes more sense to make them a front line type. Front line type = cop, firefighter, reporter, coroner, soldier, attorney, doctor, etc.
This stuck with me for a long time, but I don’t think it’s what they mean by the advice. The fact is that you know stuff. This is an opinion piece about what “Write What you Know,” really means.
The Story Empire crew just finished our roadshow blog tour. During that tour, we learned about one author who saw a ghost, and another who saw a UFO. Each of those events made it into their book. Deep down inside, they know how the event made them feel. When this gets on the page, it’s golden. I might imagine how it made them feel, but their fiction is based upon actual feelings. When something shocks us, we tend to remember the smells, sounds, temperature, and other things surrounding the event. That should go on the page too.
We all have memories, and much of what we remember is unique. Those feelings, smells, textures, and more can improve your story.
Let me give you some examples from my memory. When I was a young man, I worked two summers out of a tent camp staking mining claims. In the early days, the law required seven 4X4 wooden posts to make a claim. We were surveyors, and whenever we could pawn off the digging job, we did. The mining company hired two diggers for us.
One of these guys didn’t talk much. He wore a cowboy hat, and drove a hand painted pickup truck. It looked like he used a brush to paint it a unique shade of green. Then he hand painted a horse head just in front of the door hinge (poorly, I might add). His partner didn’t speak at all, not once that I ever remember – in two years. I took to calling him Dig, and the name stuck.
Can you see these characters showing up some day in one of my stories? Maybe they’re living off the grid, hiding from the law, maybe they’re just goofy cowboys who got outsourced by four-wheelers and better cow dogs.
During these same summers, we worked six days per week. We usually stopped about 5:00 on Saturdays and went home. We had to do our laundry and whatnot. Every Thursday, we got to take the work truck to Thousand Springs. This was a roadside bar, cafe, and gas pump. I remember they had a wall of new Stetson hats for sale. Sadly, Thousand Springs burned to the ground about five years later and they never rebuilt.
We used to shoot pool, drink a beer or two (at seventeen), and stand in line for the payphone. All of us used to wait with crumpled papers containing phone numbers in an attempt to get a date for Saturday night. Sometimes the first caller got the girl you wanted, and you had to try someone else. This is kind of a unique memory, and might make for a good story element.
Since I’m stuck on 76, 77, and part of 78, I might as well stick with it. This was small town America. All of us were either family, or we’d known each other since kindergarten. My dad owned the company, so he asked me to find boys who wanted to work. That’s how we got to spend the summers together, and earn some decent money.
One of those summers, we hired a kind of goofy cousin. Instead of going home for laundry, he and his dad decided to work Saturday night until Monday morning staking their own claims. That was the last week he worked for us. Can you see this becoming a story element at some time? It wouldn’t have to be mining, it could be all kinds of things including intellectual property.
There was even a kind of range war that made national news at one time. The mining interest moved onto private property, and that rancher did not own the mineral rights. This led to cowboys on horses – with rifles, facing deputy sheriffs in riot gear, plus one BIA agent – because he had Federal authority. The rest of us… we had to stand down while the powers that be sorted it all out. My survey friends all went to school with with the ranch kids. (One of whom was a total babe.) We had a picnic under the trees and talked about the pending football season. Two of the ranch boys were football players, and so were two of my friends. I remember how good the shade felt, the dust, the distant sound of radio chatter, how silly the BIA agent thought the deputies were in their riot gear.
This got kind of long winded, and it isn’t to make you think I’m unique. You’re unique too. We learned about Mae’s UFO and Joan’s ghost. You have unique memories too, and they can really enhance your writing. Since this is an opinion piece, I’m going to stick my neck out there. Don’t settle for the low hanging fruit, reach a bit higher and write what you know. (Oh, and my first two novels featured a main character who was a writer. Never fear, they’re trunk novels and I won’t be sharing them with the world.)
While the post didn’t go that direction, there are common experiences you can draw on too. First kiss, rejection, car wreck, Christmas, etc. I won’t take time to detail those experiences, but they fit this topic too. So let me hear from you. This is an opinion piece, and you have the right to disagree – politely. Maybe you see this as slightly different than I do. Is there something deep in your memory that could enhance your fiction? Let’s hear about it.