Write What You Know

One of the early rules I learned about writing was “write what you know.”  Tricky.  My vast stores of knowledge weren’t that inspiring.  I taught for six years.  Did I want to have an elementary school teacher as a heroine?  Not really.  I love to cook, but lots of authors already do books that revolve around catering or food.  I’m not an expert at anything, so what did I know?

I know emotions.  We all do.  We’ve all been happy, sad, furious, silly.   I’ve never murdered anyone, but I can sure understand the feeling.  I’ve been jealous, felt betrayed, suffered through failures and frustrations–all the things that bring a story to life.  And there are emotions I’m not attuned to.  A long time ago, when I first started to write short stories, I sent many of them off to Cemetary Dance, a horror magazine.  The editor, bless his heart, commented on every rejection and offered encouragement.  Finally, being the kind man he was, he mentioned that it might be possible that I didn’t have a dark enough view of the world and the humans who live in it to really write anything dark enough to work for his magazine.  And he was right.  Horror isn’t my strong suit.

So I turned to mysteries–the morality plays of our time.  Good conquers evil.  Logic prevails.  I’d been an Agatha Christie fan for years, loved amateur sleuths, and enjoyed wading through red herrings.  Mysteries kept me happily hitting the computer keys for years.  Until I discovered urban fantasy.

Here was a genre I could embrace.  I’ve loved myths since I studied four years of Latin in high school.  Fickle gods and goddesses, flawed heroes–everything a girl could want.  And superhuman, to boot.  Witches cast spells.  Vampires bit necks, and werewolves howled in the night.  What wasn’t to love?  Plus, the rules of our world were blurred.  What matters is emotions, loyalties, strengths, and weaknesses.  Good versus bad takes on a whole, new dimension.  Finding Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series sealed the deal.  I was hooked.

The thing is write what you know took on a whole new meaning.  I’ve never met a werewolf and don’t expect to.  But I can imagine how he might feel–if he gets a rush with his newfound powers or struggles to contain them.  How can a white witch defeat a witch who’s succumbed to the dark arts?  How can a vampire like himself?  With more power comes more responsibility, more options, and more temptations.  I love that.  It gives me more freedom to explore the whys of the characters I create.  In many ways, I can relate more to them than “real” characters, if they’re done well.  But any good writer, no matter what genre or type of tale they tell, can reel me in with a character I find intriguing.  And that’s the real trick of writing what you know.  You get inside that character’s mind and make him real–whether he’s mortal or not.

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