Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Survival Tip #4 - Faking It

As writers, we constantly hear 'Write What You Know'. 

But really, what do we know?  Sure, if you have a background in the military you might be able to come up with some awesome political thrillers.  Or if you're a lawyer, you could write a believable legal suspense.  Or if you're a baker, you could write one of those cute mysteries with recipes at the back.

Personally, my life is pretty boring.  If I wrote only what I knew, I'd never have a chance to get published.  I mean, sure, I did things out there in the world before I started writing.  But even then, that stuff was bland.  Who wants to read about a manufacturers' representative for electronic components?  I mean, besides the occasional funny anecdote about the engineer who spent every one of our meetings talking to my breasts.  Or the story of Suicide Squirrel.  It's all cute, but there really isn't a book's worth of interesting in any one of the things I've done.

Not that I'm totally trashing the whole 'write what you know' idea.  It's a perfectly valid suggestion.  When you know about the things you're writing, it lends authenticity to your work. 

Still, I think there's something the people who use that as a banner are missing.

We can know things without knowing them.  If that makes any sense.  With the right amount of research, we can know a boatload of information without actually experiencing any of it. 

That's right, folks, we can fake it.

We writers are masters at creating a false world.  Did Jules Verne 'know' anything about time travel?  Did Orwell ever experience a dystopian society?  Was Anne Rice hanging out with vampires in her spare time?  Nope.  They faked it.

And you can, too.

I think what the phrase 'write what you know' really boils down to is getting to know your subject matter inside and out.  Like I said, there's research to help with that.  Beyond that, there's creating your world in your mind until you KNOW it inside and out.  Plus, if you have little experiences you can sprinkle around, it makes your fakery feel all the more real. 

Take a hobby you enjoy and make it your character's.  Use an interest and give it to your MC.  Find a memory and weave it a bit to make it someone else's.

So, don't sweat the 'write what you know' mantra so much.  Write what you write to the best of your abilities and no one will doubt that you KNOW your subject.


  1. Excellent advice, B.E.! When I began this crazy "I want to be published" gig, I came across that 'rule' and freaked out just a bit. I didn't know anything about living in medieval times - but I had done the research. Like you, if I wrote what I knew, the book would be incredibly boring! Most of my writing has a mystery element - usually a murder - and I certainly don't know that!

    But your advice to sprinkle bits of what you do know is spot on. Lady Bells is a weaver - so am I. In Dancing with the Bodyguard, there's, well, dancing - I used to be a dancer and have a somewhat good grasp of the sport. I know enough to fake it :)

  2. Thanks, Janet. I did a little freaking out myself when I heard people trumpeting the 'write what you know' thing. I wrote this so other, newer writers wouldn't have to go through that. Glad it resonated with you, too. And from what I've read of your work, you know what you're doing. =o)

  3. WHAT? Anne Rice didn't hang out with vampires?!?! *sad puppy eyes* But... but... you just destroyed my whole belief system! Next you'll tell me the Easter bunny doesn't exist. *sniffles*


    I agree 100%. It annoys me a tad when people say "write what you know" because, honestly, with the right amount of research, anyone can know anything! I certainly don't have experience with hot, medieval Highlanders, but I can sure fake it just fine! ;)

  4. I'm going to weigh in here. I absolutely agree with the adage that *you* should write what you know. Now, before everyone jumps on me, you can know lots of things--or learn about them. That's where world-building comes in. That's where research comes in. There is nothing that will make me turn a book into a wall-banger faster than gross mistakes, especially in an area I *do* know something about. And trust me, I know a lot of things about a LOT of things. There are ways of faking it--Harry Met Sally, anyone?-and ways not to--Cassie Edwards and her black-footed ferrets, maybe?

    Now, all that said, I'm a totally for an active imagination so long as there is common sense and "Google-fu" involved in laying the groundwork for the story spun by that imagination.

    Good topic, B.E.!

  5. I hate the Write What You Know "rule". I'm not a hit woman....really....or if was, I'd have to kill you if you figured it out....

    Tho I DO talk to my dogs....a lot....


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