Anyone who has ever been in a writing class has heard the time-worn, (and very worn-out), advice given to those seeking a career as an author: "Write what you know." It's not necessarily bad advice and may ring true for some authors.
An example of an author who has done this successfully is Harper Lee who based a great deal of her famous book, To Kill a Mockingbird, on personally remembered events and people she knew. (Lee based the character of Atticus Finch on her father who was a lawyer and used her mother's maiden name of Finch. The character of Dill was based on someone she knew and played with as a child, her neighbor, the young Truman Capote). It worked well for Lee, so obviously there is some merit to the oft-stated dictum to "write what you know." It is, after all, a tad bit easier to write about something with which you are familiar. Well, perhaps... But, for other authors, abandoning what they know, to write what they enjoy creating, has paid off handsomely as well.
J.K. Rowlings chose to create an entire world, completely different from anything she knew in her own life, for the Harry Potter series. And while the original Queen of the Vampire genre, Anne Rice used the areas of her home town of New Orleans as a frequent back drop for her vampire and witch novels, the subject matter within the stories was fantastic fantasy. Nothing like real life and, oh so enjoyable to read! Personally I don't want to think of a reading world without vampires, witches, hobbits, dragons, slightly distorted historical fiction, grim murder mysteries, or Wookies.
The vast resources offered by the internet today for writing research, makes writing fiction easy and interesting. All writers are blessed in the imagination department. We see events, meet people, and for some reason the imagination process kicks into high gear. Part of the fun of being a writer is exploring areas you haven't personally experienced. It's imagination at its finest. Let it soar!
It works for me. My writing portfolio is eclectic. Besides writing the Cate Harlow Private Investigation series, I've written horror, paranormal, and fantasy. None of my novels are anywhere near the real life I live and I get to explore, and live vicariously through, my characters and plot lines.
As far as writing about what you know or creating new worlds, I have author friends who do both. One book can have them placing their own personal experiences onto their characters while a new novel they've scripted is a completely different creation. There is something all good books have in common, whether taken from real life events or completely invented fiction; the sense of human emotions that the plot and characters give readers. According to Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright, Tony Kushner, "The best writing is usually a journey into the unknown for both the author and the audience."
Authors are true individuals when it comes to our art. Our writing may be heavily influenced by our everyday experiences or our vivid imaginations may fuel what we write. And while a combination of the two may be mixed together in the stories we tell, it is evident that each author will draw more from one area than the other.
If you're a people watcher, those people may later end up as characters in your stories. If you're a daydreamer, you might find yourself imagining worlds filled with fascinating creatures, non-human but having human emotions.
One of the best pieces of advice I have ever received was given to me years ago by my agent, Bob Di Forio who was handling a book of short stories I had written. He told me that writing a good story is less about making the story realistic and much, much more about making both the story and the characters believable and readable.
However you approach the art of writing, you have to keep one solid rule in mind; whether you write fantasy, paranormal, or embellish episodes from your own life, you have to feel strongly and passionately about what you are writing. We want to create characters, a fictional world, and an intricately woven story that makes for good satisfying reading.
Grave Misgivings, book 2 in the popular Cate Harlow Private Investigation series is now available where all books are sold.
Copyright 2015 Kristen Houghton The Savvy Author all rights reserved