Let's talk about that saying for a bit. I've been listening to the Pippin soundtrack since I started packing and it's making me feel insightful/nostalgic/polemic. "Write what you know" is one of those ambiguous sayings which can be interpreted literally and figuratively in my opinion. One of my old English professors insisted that 'know'ing was all about emotions and personal experience.
At the time I didn't argue with her. The woman really didn't like me all that much and was always looking for a reason to bump my grade down. Now that my grade isn't in danger I feel like it's safe to suggest that personal experience is important in 'know'ing, but text book knowledge is every bit as important. Factual information or even lesser-known speculative information which has been studied and documented is something I eat up and incorporate as much as possible. This is the part of the post where all of my friends start laughing because they know that, if given the option, I would choose the fanciful over the factual any day of the week.
Writing is different though! Writers build worlds out of nothing and you can't build worlds on emotions alone! It's like making a house out of playdough.
|Man...I really want playdough now....|
Sure it looks pretty, and hey, if you try hard enough it might actually be functional for a bit. Playdough dries out pretty quick though and before you know it your house starts cracking and falling apart! Now me, I like to lay down some sturdy foundation before covering the walls with playdough. When I get an idea for a character or a story I dig and dig with my Google-shovel to learn as much as I can about a culture, a time period and the technology available, myths and superstitions, and basically everything I can in order to make a more sound/believable story.
Take the main character from Zhukov's Dogs (My novel which Kimberley Cameron is still working hard to sell! Thank you Kimberley!). Nik is a seventeen-year-old boy, the only son to a first-generation immigrant, and a military legacy just to name a few traits. Seventeen-year-old boys I know well enough. Seventeen-year-old boys who are raised to be soldiers are a little more tricky. For that I prodded a few Young Marine friends whose fathers or mothers were in the military as well. I was also lucky enough to have worked with two girls whose parents immigrated to the states either before or shortly after they were born. That turned out to be a really interesting study and I learned TONS which I'm itching to include in book two (*fingers crossed for a multi-book deal*).
It's quite a bit of extra work, but that's how I prefer to do things. I love the research process, exhausting as it might be. For me personally, finding and utilizing all that I can 'know' in terms of related, factual knowledge is every bit as important as all that I already 'know' in terms of emotion and personal experience. The story itself becomes more believable and I feel much more confident throughout the writing process...Plus, blending fact and fiction makes me giddy.