Friday, January 23, 2015

Write What You Know

If you have never heard this bit of advice, it is one of the truest principles in writing. Sure, with enough research you can fake it, but writers with hands-on experience in a matter bring insight to which researchers have no access. This experience can establish and reinforce verisimilitude in your story which can be vital if your setting or characters' professions are important.

Those who research subjects for use in their work are to be lionized for their work but, without the hands-on experience or bearing witness to a matter firsthand, they lack the details that ring true to readers with firsthand knowledge of the subject, event, or location. It's hard to write about Los Angeles' nightlife if you've never even visited the city, just as it is difficult to write about a waitress' duties if you've never waited tables. Sometimes, just visiting or shadowing a person on the job can provide all the detail you need for verisimilitude.

If you have firsthand experience with a subject, be sure to note the special, small things only those in your field experience or understand. I worked as a neon lights processor for several years and can discuss aspects of that job no one outside the field would even have contemplated. The double-edge sword is getting too caught-up in such detail regarding something that a majority of your would-be audience is unaware of and will not understand. You will be the one who first introduces readers to such a world, so keep it simple, because a lot of people are going to breeze through lengthy exposition without fully registering what they are reading.

It's important your stories have some amount of verisimilitude so that readers can relate to your work and characters - their plights, flaws, successes and failures - but too much "inside knowledge" can have the opposite effect. Find a pleasant middle-ground and realize that the majority of your audience does not pursue that career, live in that area, follow that kind of lifestyle, or whatever the matter may be. This is obviously untrue if your work is aimed at a specific group or demographic.

© C Harris Lynn DBA The Weirding, 2015

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