Write What You Know, Learn What You Don’t

One of the most important requirements of writing well is putting forth the necessary effort to make scenes as realistic as possible.  One of the most common advice given to new writers is simple: ‘write what you know.’  It is advice that I agree with wholeheartedly, but would also add an addendum to the statement: ‘Write what you know, and learn what you don’t.’

First, description.  Detailed description of scenes can prove a vital element towards bringing a scene to life.  If you want to write a scene with your characters becoming lost in the woods, perhaps consider taking a walk in the forest.  Note the sounds you hear, the smells in the air, the way sunlight and shadows filter through the trees.  The same goes for a scene on the beach.  Walk along the waves, taste the salty air, feel the texture of the sand between your fingers.

If you don’t have the opportunity to go to these places yourself, read the works of those who have.  Extensive reading often proves to be a writer’s best resource.  Read descriptions of the places you plan to write about.  If you are writing about a real location, research its history, its layout, any other aspect which you may deem interesting or helpful within the research process.  If your location is fictional, consider finding ways to familiarize yourself with the land you are creating. One way of doing this is to consider writing side stories that deal with your world’s past or present.

One of my favourite memories as a young writer was attempting to compose a scene set in an old country bar before I was old enough to legally enter one.  Growing up in a small town, we like many similar locations, had a small saloon-style bar near the centre of town.  Expressing great difficulty in attempting to write something I had never experienced, the owner offered to open the large double doors, allowing me to observe a night at the bar.  Only after this was I able to write the scene with any sense of believability.

This is a method I used while composing my upcoming series, Rise of the Temple Gods.  The novel actually began as a short story which took place a generation after what would become the primary plot.  The main purpose of the piece became world-building.  Within it, I developed the fantasy land which my later characters would come to inhabit.  I discovered that the sky was violet, there were multiple suns in the sky, the trees came in multiple neon colours such as pink, blue, and orange.  Later, I would compose another short story, investigating my character’s childhood; learning about their upbringing, their values and their experiences.  This helped to shape the young adults who would come to dominate my forthcoming novels.

When I first began the novel, Heir to Kale, I had crafted a world in which one of the most important elements was combat; both hand to hand and swordplay.  When I first proposed this idea to my mentor, her first response was “Sounds Great!  Now, what do you know about swordplay?”  My answer: “Not much.”

This being the case, I spent the better part of the next year and a half conducting research.  This included not only reading books, both fiction and non, which featured scenes which used swordplay and martial arts, but also interviews with dojo masters, attending classes for beginners, and observing courses of students far more advanced.  Students and Masters alike graciously took the time out of their busy schedules to answers my questions.  Then, once I began writing, I found even more kindness when some of these men and women agreed to read the scenes I was writing, breaking down what worked and what did not, and explaining the reasons why in great detail.

Now as one can probably guess, this is not a quick process.  It is slow and time-consuming and different authors will approach it with various levels of both time and dedication.  However,  most find that in the end, such measures are well worth the work involved and are a vital part of the process needed to create a believable, rich tale.

Leave a comment

Filed under Writing

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s