Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Writing What You Don't Know

You've probably heard that a writer needs to write what he or she knows.

Used to be I was filled to the brim with this message. I heard it directly at a writing conference or read it in chapter 5. Other writers just wanted my writing to be accurate.

Photo by: fotografeleen, courtesy of Flickr
Because I felt as if my life was pretty narrow--I haven't traveled much and some might consider me a homebody--I went to the library and researched. This was before computers were a hit. I'd check out books and read about the things I didn't know. I'd make a few calls. I'd speak to others who were knowledgeable in the area in which I was lacking. The end result?

I was now writing what I knew.

I remember the time I needed to know what a train really sounded like coming into a station. Since I'd never personally had that experience, it was important for me to be accurate. So I did a google search and found a sound clip that really helped. That scene is in my book, Scrambled.


Photo by: informatique, courtesy of Flickr

When I was writing, Conquering Your Goliaths: A Parable of the Five Stones, I wanted to know more about the city of Gath where Goliath was born. I discovered that the word, gath, meant wine press. With a bit more study I was able to write about it as if I'd been there.

A River of Stones, a young adult fiction book, came primarily from my head, but there were times when I didn't know of what I spoke of so I did some research. In the end I had scenes built from places I'd visited on the Internet and calls I had made.

When it comes to writing what you don't know, it's really only tricky if you haven't done any study at all. Even a little study is better than the guessing game. But a deeper study will usually do the trick and will allow the reader to feel as if the characters have really been there.

Some sources to get you started:
Happy researching!

Kathryn
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