Sunday, July 30, 2017

What Do You Know?

Over the last few months I conducted a writing workshops for a few teens. One young lady brought in a story that was quite interesting. After we read and critiqued it, she shared that the story had been a school assignment. Her teacher had asked them to write a story that included several elements including a pueblo blanket. It was clear from the list of items that the teacher wanted the students to write a story with a Native American theme. The young lady, however, decided she did not know enough about Native American culture to write comfortably about it and without the option for research she wrote something with which she could relate and in which the required elements made only cameo appearances.

I'm not sure how her teacher responded but I applauded her innate understanding of the idea of writing what you know. This is a complicated and often misunderstood concept. If it is interpreted at its most basic level it would mean the police should be knocking on Maggie King's door and let's not even begin to discuss Pynk. Writing what you know may have more to do with writing about emotions, feelings, and experiences you understand, even if they are then set on Mars, in locales you have researched but never lived in.

You may never have been accused of murder but you may have felt the injustice of being misunderstood or having your motives questioned.

You may not have lost a brother but you have felt the loss of something that meant a lot to you.

You may never have flown in a spaceship, walked on another planet, or encountered an alien race but you've probably felt the exhilaration of a new, exciting, and deliciously dangerous experience.

You may not have killed anyone but you may have felt the rage or longing that took you to the brink of committing a crime.

What has been your experience writing about locales and experiences foreign to you? What steps do you take to ensure your writing is authentic?

4 comments:

G.B. Miller said...

Research until my eyes literary bleed and pop out my skull. My first book was about a woman who goes into the adult entertainment industry, so I had to do research on that (found some books on those who did it, plus stories about those who work behind the scenes. And since I knew diddly/squat about the proper physical characteristics/clothing for women to begin with, that required asking pointed questions of close friends, open-minded co-workers and blog readers so that I could write my characters as realistic as possible.

Linda Thorne said...

I sometimes think our experiences in movies, TV and other people's books gives us enough to write something as if we experienced it. Think about it. A screenplay or a book describing something you've never done (like murder for example) and yet you seem to know how all your characters will act under the circumstances. Yes, research helps too.

Liane Spicer said...

I agree with Linda in that although we might not have first-hand experience of some things, we have gathered lots of vicarious experience over a lifetime. And for the stuff we don't know, research, research, research.

S.J. Francis said...

Read. Read. Read. Go out and observe. Research. My experience, and the experiences of others. And if those don't do it, interview. It's been my experience that people love to talk about themselves. And as Liane and Linda already said, living vicariously helps out, too.