Write What and Where You Know – Down Home(stead) Advice

BY RADCLYFFE

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The adages and axioms about how to write are legion, but none perhaps more universal than “write what you know.” In many ways, this advice makes perfect sense–one thing most readers seem to say they want in their fiction is for the story to be “authentic,” although that definition could be open to interpretation (true, genuine, real, accurate.) I take authentic to mean believable, in the sense that in the universe we have created, the facts seem plausible, and the emotions and psychological makeup of our characters are consistent and congruent. There are distinct advantages to writing what we know–we don’t have to fact check as much. When I write a medical romance, many of the technical details are so ingrained I never have to think about writing the action scenes.

On the other hand, if I’m writing a shootout between Secret Service agents and terrorists, I have to research what kind of weapons and ammunition are used, what the their range might be, what kind of protective equipment is worn, and a host of other details. Not only is the writing easier when we write the familiar, we’re more likely to incorporate small details that enhance the scene. Similarly, when we write what we know from an emotional place, if we’re honest enough, we can instill in our characters the kinds of compelling conflicts and reactions that resonate with readers. Our characters become more “real.”

 

But writing what we know isn’t without detractions. On a simplistic level, if we only wrote what we knew, how quickly we would run out of things to write about and how boring our books might be. If we only wrote what was real, fantasy and paranormal would automatically be discounted. Many of our mystery and romance plots, as well. And as to emotional truths, what if we’re writing about a vampire? Oughtn’t they have different sets of moral codes, psychological profiles, and emotional reactions (assuming they have reactions) than humans?

Fiction is the creative equivalent of freedom–we can create worlds, rewrite history, and imagine outcomes that might never happen in “real life” as long as we fashion a believable foundation for the social/cultural/ and biologic basis of the universe and script characters who are emotionally consistent. Our personal experiences are the launch pad from which we create our fiction, and drawing on personal experience can only enrich our work.

 

One of the most important elements of writing what we know, as I have experienced every time I write about familiar places, is setting. In Homestead,Homestead 300 DPI I chose to write about my own front yard. The farm where almost all the action takes place is actually my farm, and the roads and landmarks and villages and most of the people are actually real places and based on real individuals. In addition to the ease of writing a place that is so familiar, I think familiar places instill in us an emotional connection that comes through in what we write. I know when I wrote the Justice series and placed it in Old City Philadelphia, it was easier to write with the kind of observational detail that simply can’t be called up from Google maps or information on the Internet. I know that some of the most difficult settings I’ve had to create are places I have not personally been. Setting becomes a character in our work when it has special meaning to us, like Provincetown has for me in the Provincetown Tales.

 

Obviously, that is not to say we cannot write about places we have never been, or we’ll be right back in the same restrictive situation we are emotionally and psychologically if we only write what we know. While the benefit of actually visiting the place we’re going to write about cannot be overstated, the Internet does provide us with lots of information about climate, architecture, language, and all the other conditions we need to know to write about a particular place.

 

So my humble advice: write what you know and want to know, set in places you love—from the heart.

 

16 Responses to “Write What and Where You Know – Down Home(stead) Advice”


  1. 1 Justine October 29, 2013 at 9:32 AM

    Good advice, though as you pointed out, you need to bend it a little when you’re writing paranormal. I think Homestead has a particular charm, not only because the details are necessarily authentic, but because it allows the reader to know you a little better. (And by ‘you’, I mean Radclyffe, not Alpha, of course. Although….)
    But seriously, the description of a woman hefting a huge sack of feed onto her shoulder and swaggering down the aisle of a store immediately calls up your image, like it or not.

    Like

  2. 2 Erin Saluta October 29, 2013 at 9:59 AM

    As a reader, I would definitely agree that the setting can become a character in itself with how the main characters relate to it, feel about it, are challenged by it. The more believable it is, the better the story.

    Like

  3. 3 S.A. October 29, 2013 at 10:16 AM

    Thanks for the insightful comments. As always, I’m very much looking forward to your new book.🙂

    Like

  4. 4 szegerton October 29, 2013 at 11:37 AM

    The big disadvantage, Radclyffe, especially with one’s debut, is that nobody believes it’s NOT your autobiography! #noitisntmereallyitisnt…

    Like

  5. 5 Nikki Busch October 29, 2013 at 2:18 PM

    This makes so much sense, Radclyffe. The idea of writing “what you know and want to know, set in places you love—from the heart” is a great one. To me it says that even if I haven’t lived in a certain place or done a certain thing, if it’s something about which I’m passionate, or something I’m linked to in some way, writing about it will come much more naturally. Thank you.

    Like

  6. 6 Sheri Campbell October 29, 2013 at 2:29 PM

    At first when I read the title I thought , my beloved Radclyffe knows paranormal stuff,.. then I remembered you created the whole universe. What power and for me it was all believable. If I can believe in the story, it’s a winner. Now Homestead will carry more meaning and believeability.(my new word). You are the Queen of lesbians.

    Like

  7. 7 Bookgeek October 29, 2013 at 3:42 PM

    I love a great setting and can’t wait for the release of Homestead

    Like

  8. 8 SueH October 29, 2013 at 4:56 PM

    A good setting always enhances the story, and believability is a must. Can’t wait for the release, I love your stand alone romances.

    Like

  9. 9 Leana October 29, 2013 at 9:40 PM

    Great advise write what you know and what you would like to know
    Thank you for all your wonderful writing

    Like

  10. 10 Tq October 30, 2013 at 10:59 AM

    I won Oct drawing and asked for Homestead. I love it. You make me want to buy a farm🙂

    Like

  11. 11 Kim October 30, 2013 at 11:07 AM

    Thanks as always for your insights and I’m looking forward to reading your new work.

    Like

  12. 12 Lori Janos October 30, 2013 at 7:58 PM

    I’m a reader and not a writer, so the concept of believability is very strong for what I look for in a book. Even paranormal and fantasy to me still have a certain degree of believability. I think your advice of writing what you know is good and if you’re writing things you don’t know, for God’s sake do the research. I haven’t read Homestead yet, trying to save up money for it, but I do look forward to reading it.

    Like

  13. 13 Devlyn October 31, 2013 at 6:51 AM

    It is Halloween here and I am eagerly awaiting the release of Homestead.
    Great advice as always.

    Like

  14. 14 Tristan October 31, 2013 at 6:35 PM

    I seriously cannot wait to get my hands on Homestead. I’m a huge and very loyal Radclyffe fan. I know that whatever she rights is going to be gold. This book is going to be even more amazing because the setting in the book is so familiar!

    Like

  15. 15 Glenda November 1, 2013 at 11:40 AM

    A believable setting is a huge part of my enjoyment in any book. In yours I often feel like I can ‘see’ the area, though I’ve never been there. I’m eagerly awaiting Homestead.

    Like

  16. 16 Guillermo Luna November 7, 2013 at 11:12 AM

    The following sentence spoke to me, “Not only is the writing easier when we write the familiar, we’re more likely to incorporate small details that enhance the scene.” I always like the small details in any book. I wish you the best of luck with Homestead.

    Like


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