Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Write what you know - but know a lot

Write what you know - isn't that what we're told all the time?

But I wonder about that advice. I understand the premise, but I think it falls just a bit short. After all, if I wrote what I knew on a daily basis, I'd be penning a fascinating tome on cubicles and cafeteria lines. Isn't the real trick to stretch and learn and know more?

When I wrote Death on Deadline, I put my protagonist in a newsroom because I was a reporter for so many years. I felt confident in that environment. That's what I knew. But I needed more drama - more mayhem. However ... I hadn't killed any editors. (Although I'd been tempted.) So I researched poisons, contemplated motives, debated logistics.

I think I was starting to give my husband the creeps, but in the end, I did feel like I was writing what I knew - just in a different way.

I didn't realize how important believability in fiction was until I heard something that rang false.

I attended a writing group once where a young man brought his manuscript; he read aloud from a part where a woman received a prenatal ultrasound. But it was obvious he had no idea how an ultrasound worked. I was pregnant at the time, and this bothered me immensely. But when I politely questioned his description, he was openly hostile.

"That's how it works in my book," he said stubbornly. Fine, I thought. But will it work for your readers?