A lot of novice writers receive the advice ‘write what you know’ and feel very restricted by it. We’ve not all had the benefit of travelling to exciting places, working in thrilling jobs or getting involved in unusual events.
We are all alive though and have experience in some way. Some of our experiences are unusual, others are very common, and it’s up to us as writers to choose which we’ll use in our writing.
There are lots of ways you can enrich your writing by using that knowledge.
Here are a few examples:
- Setting a story in a place you know well or in a time period you remember.
- Using specialist knowledge gained through work.
- Providing your protagonist with characteristics you understand and relate to.
As a writer of fiction, you have full permission to use your imagination! It’s perfectly reasonable to set your story in a made up world, with laws that you invented, and characters who behave in an extraordinary fashion.
But, there are some things which are required to ground your story. I will write a blog post in a few weeks about world building, but for now, it’s worth remembering that your world should have laws, and if you’re fairly new to writing, you can’t go wrong by transferring the basic laws of our world to your imaginary one. Blue skies, green grass and gravity are things we take for granted. Your reader can take them for granted too, and will do, unless you suggest they should do otherwise.
If you’re writing crime, you don’t have to be a police detective yourself – there are plenty of good books, websites and helpful contacts around. It is important to get your facts straight, but you can use research to ensure this is done correctly.
You don’t have to have been in love to write a romance novel, but it certainly helps!
Empathy, talking to people who have had experiences, and research are all useful ways to inform your writing, but if you want to really bring it alive, consider adding in a bit of yourself. You have a USP (Unique Selling Point), which is made up of all the things you’ve done, the places you’ve been to and your personal journey.
One of my novels, Revelation, is set in a University Hall of Residence in Manchester in 1989. That was a time when I was a student in Manchester myself, and many of the experiences I had during that time were used to enrich the novel – the music, the films, the single telephone between 46 students were all important in bring the book to life. I was never involved in a murder case, and fortunately for me, I didn’t have to endure any of the traumatic situations that Becky and Dan found themselves in, but I could imagine them all, and they felt real to me while I was writing, because I knew that setting so well.
In conclusion, use your USP – write the novel of your dreams and season with a good sprinkling of knowledge and experience.