Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Writing what you know

A writing acquaintance blogged recently about writing what you know, and the advice given to every new author. But wait a minute. As she pointed out, how can you write about being a murderer, unless you've killed someone, meeting a vampire, unless you've met one, or about the middle ages, when you could not possible have lived back then.

With my first historical romance, I heeded the advice to write what I knew - to a certain extent. I was born and had lived in Indiana most of my childhood days. So my first novel started in Indiana. It was a Civil War romance, based loosely on the underground railroad, because, according to legion, my grandparents farm was one of the way stations. And my great grandfather was in the Civil War.

However, I wasn't around (Despite my daughter's claim I could have been.) I was writing about something I knew, the town in Indiana involved in the story, the underground workings of the railroad and the battles of the civil war. Unfortunately, I almost blew it, because in the first, second, third - okay - a bunch of rewrites, in one scene I had the wrong side starting a major conflict. I got that corrected and I also had to learn something about memory loss, but back then, my library was invaluable along with a good supply of medical and history books.

So the instructions to write what you know are not really about location, or a specific behavior, but the emotions and feelings involved in the characters you develop. If you've ever been furious, you know how that feels, or moved to tears because of something you see or hear, or fallen in love, which I did fifty five years ago, then those emotions can be what you write about, the prospective that is uniquely yours. I can't help but mention, I can still describe the 'in love' feeling for my DH and I will celebrate our 53rd wedding anniversary two days from now.

Okay, I didn't live in the middle ages, but I know from research how women were treated and I have a notion how I would 'feel' in their situation. Yes, from a modern point of view, but let's face it. My books are being read by people who are living today, so their attitude would have to reflect some of the contemporary 'spin', for want of a better word.

So, despite the directive - Write what you know - By all means. Give you characters the emotions and feelings you would have placed in their same position. You can do it. It's called writing fiction.

Heart-warming Romance with a Sensual Touch


Andrii said...

Can you really encapsulate emotions in words? Even if you have been in love, what words would you use to correctly project this feeling?

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

You are an author who can get inside a character's head. The emotions keep their readers reading.

The first historical fiction I ever read was a Frank G. Slaughter novel that took place at sea. I was totally transported and had known nothing about the sea or medicine at that time. Slaughter was one of, if not the first, physicians to write fiction. He knew people, too. Just put them in the situation and turn up the heat.

Linda LaRoque said...

Happy 53rd Anniversary, Allison. What a milestone! I think you've done an excellent job with your historicals. I love research and it's part of what makes writing fun.

Andri, I would describe being in love as like being cold-cocked, in a daze, or maybe happy and content.

Jude Johnson said...

Congratulations on your anniversary, Allison! Wow, that's a lot of dirty socks...

Everyone feels differently, processes their sensory information differently, so describing an emotion like love is different for each author. The gut butterflies, the sensation of vertigo, the racing heart beat will compete with the heart-wrenching sorrow if it ends.


Allison Knight said...

You're right on, Jude. There's a special feeling you get when you're in love. When my mother was in the hospital right after surgery, before she was really conscious, Dad started talking to her. Her blood pressure when up, noticeably. Raising blood pressure produces a certain physical feeling which gives you a special sensation, just as you described.

Allison Knight said...

Oh, and thanks for the congrats. Yep, a lot of dirty socks, but a lot more meals. Good thing I always like to cook.