Monday, July 30, 2012

Borrowed Truths

Who was it that said “Write what you know?”

“Write what I know…hmm…” A second later your face glasses over and your shoulders fall.

“I don’t know much. In fact, I don’t know anything. I’m not a flipping encyclopedia, am I? I can’t remember the last time I murdered someone, slopped pigs, filled a Senate post, adopted a child, won the lottery, or sailed on a clipper ship. How am I supposed to write convincing first-hand descriptions about administering poison or swabbing a deck?”

If it makes you feel any better, you can’t. It’s impossible. You will never get to the heart of the particular event or encounter like someone who sat on the front row.

“Well, then my writing career is over,” you say. “I’ll put down my pen and take up scuba diving.”

If that’s what you want, go for it. But don’t let a little thing like inexperience keep you from writing gripping imageries. You may not be Jack the Ripper, but I bet you’ve fallen victim to hatred or a moment of insanity at least once in your life. Draw on the dark side of your character, the times you’ve undergone such angst in similar settings and write as close to the situation as you can. Depend on colleagues, research, or the testimonials of convicted felons to fill in the gaps. Most readers haven’t a clue of what it’s like to shoot someone. Any research you glean is bound to satisfy to a near degree. As long as you pull from your store of authentic emotion, those who do reminisce about the good ol’ days might still relate to the borrowed truth of your made-up world.

After you write your scene, you may cringe at the angst, or at the million other sentiments your descriptions invoke. You’ll realize you’re close then, close though not exactly a serial killer. Nor should you believe writing about his antics will turn you in to one.

You laugh. You’ve worried about Stephen King for years. 

I’m sure he’s a perfectly normal guy.


rebecca h jamison said...

Good point, Peggy. So much of writing is emotion. The other day, I had a bad experience at McDonalds. A former friend walked in, saw my family there and decided to leave because she didn't want to talk to us. I went home feeling sorry for myself, then I realized, "Hey, this would make a great scene in my novel." I wrote it, and I feel a lot better.

Bonnee Crawford said...

Taking up scuba diving and worrying about Stephen King... that made me laugh a little :)

Of course we can't write directly for our own experiences for a lot of it, but the point is we're supposed to be writers, so we're supposed to have imaginations and be willing to put in the effort to FIND OUT what we don't already know. Research, etc... just because we don't KNOW something doesn't mean we will never be able to write about it.

Thanks for sharing, Peggy!