What It Means To Write What You Know

By on July 21, 2016
What It Means To Write What You Know - Writer's Life.org

As a writer, we are sure you will have come across the phrase ‘write what you know’ at one point or another. ‘Write what you know’ is often the advice we are given when starting out on a new creative project. The logic being that if we use our own personal experiences to influence and shape our writing, it will come across more natural, more authentic and therefore more believable for our readers.

Of course, taken too literally and this could make for some pretty boring pieces of writing! I don’t know about you but as much as I love my life, if I confined my writing to be based only on the things I have seen and done, it could turn out to be a rather mundane tale! What about all those stories about magical wizards, haunting ghosts, lost souls or hardboiled detectives?

So how exactly do you ‘write what you know', while still allowing yourself the creative freedom to let your imagination run wild and build characters and worlds that are exciting, refreshing and original?

Here is how to do it:

Use your emotions

Whatever kind of story you are writing, it will no doubt have some emotional scenes. Your characters have to feel something, and those feelings have to be successfully conveyed to the reader so that we empathise or at least react to them in some way.

Whoever you are, you will have experienced a huge range of emotions in your life. Think how you felt both physically and mentally - find the words to describe these feelings and then apply this to your fictional work to bring your characters to life.

Capture conversations

Writing realistic dialogue is one of the toughest jobs a writer can face. One of the best ways to do this is by listening to conversations you hear in everyday life and learning how our voices ebb and flow. The different kinds of language people use when they are trying to come across in different ways,  their accents, inflexions, and how their body language matches (or doesn’t match) what they say can all be noted and used when writing dialogue in our own stories. 

Create characters

Many writers base their characters on people they have met in real life. Some even do it without realizing! Even in a story where your characters are superhero’s or aliens, or animals, they will still have personalities. Using people you know to help shape your characters is a useful way of making them come across as ‘human’ - regardless of whether they are or not!

Tell tales

While you might not know what it is like to slay a dragon or discover a wormhole to another world in your closet, you do know what it is like to take a hot bath, to stand in a queue, to eat something delicious. You can use your everyday experiences to help shape your work.

You probably know more than you think you do.

While your life might not have the wild highs and lows of a zombie battling superhero - there will be stories from it that you can use in your book.

At the end of the day, however, fictionalised our stories become, they have a funny way of creeping into our work, whether we intended them to or not. By allowing this to happen we find our voices as writers, we write more precisely and emotively, and therefore are truly ‘writing what we know.’

Bethany Cadman -author of 'Doctor Vanilla's Sunflowers'

Bethany Cadman -author of 'Doctor Vanilla's Sunflowers'

About Ty Cohen

2 Comments

  1. Joseph McGarry

    July 21, 2016 at 1:24 pm

    Good advice. On characters, make sure you change some details of your characters’ background. Otherwise, you run the risk of a lawsuit if someone thinks a character is too much like them.

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