Friday, January 14, 2011

Friday Challenge - Write What You Know

Straight-forward huh? Very unlike me in fact but that is the mood I'm in. The challenge however is NOT to write what you know but to fully examine what this weird trope means. We just accept it like 'show not tell' and ''get rid of all your silly adverbs'. But what does 'write what you know' really mean?
One of my all-time favorite books is The Diamond Age- a Victorian Girls' Primer by Neal Stephenson. It is an amazing look at a future that few could imagine let alone 'know'. In this first steam-punk novel, a cyber-engineer creates an interactive book for a wealthy client's grand-daughter. It gets into the hands of a young girl who lives with her toxic mother and criminal brother in an industrial slum. The story follows three young girls and how the book changes their lives and the way the world works. Neal Stephenson does not live in the far far future. He is not, nor has he ever been, a 12 year old girl. Mark Twain was not a black slave and Shakespeare was not a magician living on an island with his daughter. Yet they all created believable consistent universes.
Perhaps it is in the word 'know'. I don't know what it is like to arrive on a planet not my own, and try to make my way, but I do remember moving every three or four years and having to figure out the school politics that I would be thrust into. I have never lived with a man who has become brain-damaged (as in my novel True) but I have struggled with being in relationship with someone who has altered their being considerably. I have never found a baby on the rocks at Peggy's Cove like my character Winn in The Rock Walker but I have had to make sudden decisions regarding strange happenstance.
Is it possible that we have a treasure chest of wisdom that we arent' aware of? A treasure chest that allows us to understand - to know - anything we might need to know - compassion for the basic human condition that allows us to know what it might be like to have nothing but a soccer ball to befriend on a lonely island, or what living in Biblical times as a woman might entail? I think we do.
Your challenge is to look at five novels or stories and decide what experiences you've had that might have prepared you to be able to write them. If you can't think of five I'll give them to you here:

Gone With the Wind
The Catcher in the Rye
To Kill a Mockingbird
The English Patient
Harry Potter and the ....(whichever you want)

is this my home?


Tricia J. O'Brien said...

The internet age we live in makes it much easier to write about places and physical experiences we haven't had, and when we combine that with emotional and personal experiences we've all had, we have the key to the kingdom. At least, that's my take. :)
Wonderful post and prompt.

Jan Morrison said...

Thanks Tricia - I do like to travel on the internet but it doesn't quite replace being on the spot. Paris - I'm going to find you!

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Jan--Great observation, here! I've never thought of it that way, but I think we do have so many experiences that prepare us for writing. And I've never explored it until now. Thanks...this is one for me to mull over.

Jan Morrison said...

Good, Elizabeth. I often think when I'm in a tricky situation that nothing is wasted when you're a writer. Except perhaps a sore back. Shouldn't have shovelled the other day. dang.

Hart Johnson said...

You know I was HOPING you were going to tell me that in order to have a really HOT hero, I was going to have to KNOW one... *cough* I suppose though, it is probably better this way.

At the time I auditioned for my Cozy, there were two series available to try for--one had to do with a book/chocolate shop owner, the other with my garden mystery... HOW could I pass up the book/chocolate combo? Well the parameters defined the MC for the gardening mystery as a PR person with a reporter boyfriend... I have a journalism degree and worked in advertising. Those people I KNOW... so much easier for me to realistically conceive of those CHARACTERS (media people) because I once was one and was immersed in them... and my side kick says things like "I'm naked!"--my readers all think the sidekick is me... really though, she just has a few of my more outrageous tics.

Faith Pray said...

Good words, Jan! It's funny, but I think "write what you know" has stunted me just a bit. I'm glad to turn that advice inside out and have a better look, thanks to your prompt. I wonder if "write what you know" could relate to what you've read as well as experienced. That would certainly pad my experience pockets!

Jan Morrison said...

Tartlette - so sorry to disapoint. Don't you think you do 'know' these gorgeous naked men just by writing about them though?

Faith - sometimes I think I have experienced what I've read so I don't see why not! By all means turn the whole thing on its pointy little head (convention I mean).

Rayna M. Iyer said...

You know, I just never thought about it that way. But we all have experiences that shape (or could shape) what and how we write, don't we?

I know that if you ask me for the one person who shaped how I think, it would be Atticus Finch. And I am as far removed from him and his situation as anyone could be. Yet, he is human and I am human, and that is all that really matters. The rest can be researched.

If I don't do this challenge in the next two weeks, will you remind me, please?