Monday, December 27, 2010
RAMBLINGS ON WRITING
One of the first pieces of advice I got when I started to write was: 'write what you know'. So when I started to write a novel set in Wyoming - a place I'd never been - I thought I was in trouble. But my story is set in the 1880s and I'm never going to see Wyoming in that era anyway. It would be like expecting Tolkien to have visited Middle Earth before he wrote the books. (And before the advent of Peter Jackson!)
For a while it worried me that all my characters ride horses. I haven't ridden a horse since I was a kid. But then I realised that most of the things that happen in my story are foreign to me. For example: being shot in the leg; milking a cow; riding a train over the Sierra Nevada's; smoking a cigarette; hunting game with a Henry rifle; gutting and skinning a rabbit; experiencing a blizzard. Now I am sure there are simply thousands of books where the author hasn't experienced half of what they write. And when I think of all those crime books out there, I think we should be glad crime writers don't get first hand experience!
I've come to the conclusion that 'writing what you know' is not so much about place and setting, but about people: what makes them tick; what motivates them; how they react to each other; the full range of emotions. Can you write a romance if you've never been in love? Can you write a thriller if you've never been scared? Could I write the story of Maddie if I hadn't had to strive for acceptance and a place in life, myself? No.
So, with confidence, I can say that I am 'writing what I know'.