Write what you know? Nah, be a master thief!

Every author has heard the words “Write what you know.”Writewhatyouknow Honestly I think that’s terrible advice. While having personal information and experience can give the writing an interesting flavor,  if I wrote only what “I know” all my books would be about dogs, baking cookies, and hiking. That would make for some pretty boring books. So forget that!

Okay I admit writing about demon dogs is cool. After all look at Out for Souls & Cookies…

So my advice is twofold.
First, write what excites you enough to research the information that you need. It is going to be plenty an average person doesn’t know. My research list for The Light Side of the Moon included:

  • Lunar surface
  • Where a Lunar Colony might be located upon the moon
  • Recycling methods
  • American and European cities which Ellie stops along her way to the space elevator
  • Commercial Trucking including driving laws and restrictions
  • Smoking pot
  • British Slang
  • French Slang
  • Dissecting a pig’s heart
  • Medical School
  • First grade education
  • And many many other topics…

Second, steal from your friends!

Don’t worry, I’m not talking plagiarism. I am talking about listening and observing people so you can write interesting and realistic characters. Some people interview to help create characters. I tend to take attributes from people I see on the bus or in a coffee shop and especially from my author friends. Mainly because they tend to be smart and articulate.

My friends are not the characters–the characters are themselves. This is simply a way to help develop the character.

IMG_1455

I ordered Zachary Bonelli to hold me. He did my bidding. I ordered him to rub my belly. He did my bidding. I ordered Andrea McQuate to give me a bite of pretzel. She did my bidding. However, this mythical “Evan Witt”  does not exist for he has neither rubbed my belly or given me food. Perhaps I will allow his existence some day. All hail the Mighty Rosie Beast!

Zachary Bonelli the author of Voyage Embarkation is an idealist just like my character Ian Whitlatch, so I mimicked some of Zach’s mannerisms, especially when Ian gets passionate about the injustice women suffer in the prison. The clenching fist, the softer voice when he gets serious. I have seen Zach’s kindness first hand–in fact he cradled Rosie in his hands to make her more comfortable on a car ride for at least an hour–so I can assume he would be kind to children such as Ian in this scene:

(Andre is 5. There has been a riot on the station. He and the other kids have taken shelter in the infirmary.)

…“Tristan and Ellie saved us,” Andre whimpered. Then he slipped away from Lisette and climbed onto Ian’s lap. Ian reached out for a tissue off the counter and wiped away the boy’s snotty tears and told him to blow his nose.  Andre did so. Ian clenched the tissue in his fist and leaned back in his chair wrapping his arms around him trying to make him comfortable… 

My friend Andrea McQuate is a neuroscientist. When I wrote Ian’s opening scenes, she was the one who told me to make Ian be more in love with his science experiment. Also her stories of gradschool and time in the lab speaks of passion for one’s work. So from Andrea, I stole Ian’s love of science.

what truly excited Ian was observing deep within the four chambers of the heart. While he had to outpace the rotting flesh, he lingered over the spiraling perfection of muscle. With his left hand, he trailed the coronary artery as he drew it with his right. His fingers felt for the thickness of the ventricles. He located the curved part of the aorta behind the pulmonary arteries to the lungs. 

Put the two together and I have a character like Ian Whitlatch.

I even do it for villains. In The Martlet, one of my favorite characters is Kian, but for a long time he was missing something until a few weeks ago when I met author Evan Witt who came to my reading. Afterwards we went out to dinner with artist & author AoKA (another extremely interesting person I’d love to base a character off of someday. )

Evan has wonderful hand gestures and plays with his pen when he speaks or when he is listening. Kian needed more details to show his nature and that seemed appropriate.  Now one thing they have in common is  when Evan smiles, his eyes crinkle. That was actually what drew me into watching him more intently.  That’s when I began noticing his pen acrobatics.

He doesn’t look like Kian– obviously he’s not a Fairsinge with tri-pointed ears nor does he have strawberry blonde hair or blue eyes. I certainly hope he doesn’t have “scars that run deep” or thinks he will find the secret to immortality by turning people into revenants, but that’s hardly the point.

My friends are not the characters–the characters are themselves. Ian has attributes outside both Zach and Andrea.  I began writing Kian a year ago and met Evan only a month ago. This is simply a way to help develop the character more deeply. While all the authors I mentioned in this blog know because I told them I was writing the blog post, most people won’t notice because I am picking and choosing specific gestures or intrinsic qualities that I do not possess.

So go be a master thief!

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6 responses to this post.

  1. I could not agree more. I think stepping outside the comfort zones tests the limits of creativity!

    Reply

  2. Ah… the sweet fame that comes from fidgety pen-mechanics.

    Great blog post, I’ll try to take the writing advice to heart.

    Reply

    • Thank you, I am glad you liked it. Now you know why I kept staring at you Tuesday night. I’m sure as we get to know each other better, I’ll steal something else from you too…

      Reply

  3. Posted by writingsprint on September 24, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    “Good artists copy, great artists steal,” said Pablo Picasso. You should always steal good ideas. The key is to make it your own. I’m already getting ideas from the title “out for souls and cookies” ;-).

    Reply

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