Writing What You Know?

10 Apr

Write what you know – Natasha McNeely spoke about this on her blog titled ‘Life Experiences: Why Not add Them To Your Book’.

Read the post, Natasha is very clever and has an idea to get you used to writing about, well, what you know.

I love writing about what I know, and for many writers that I have spoken with, we have in common a love for music for bringing past feelings back to the fore of our minds, to really encapsulate those emotions.

What if though, we need to write about something we have not experienced? How do we create those emotions, how can we make that scene not just real in our minds, but that it translates to the page also.

Obviously the first thing we need to do is research the particular topic. An example would be I was writing a YA novel with an autistic protagonist, not only did I need to have an understanding of autism, but for this piece, it involved a young offenders institute. I needed to know how such a place would affect a teenage boy with autism, reactions for both the protagonist, and those around him.

I have two full notebooks filled with information on this subject. It wasn’t enough though, my writing was limited as it was imagining an emotion, I couldn’t feel it, I couldn’t see it, it was just…bland.

This can be overcome by following step two, speaking with someone who has been in a similar situation.

There was one problem however, I neither knew a teenage boy with autism, or even just a teenage boy who had been in a young offenders. This particular piece has been put to one side. I may pick it up again one day, I like to think when I am a well-known author and people believe in my writing skills enough for me to ask them about such personal issues. as it stands, I’m just Ellie, wannabe writer but probably just a dreamer.

That doesn’t mean to say I havent employed these techniques elsewhere. Now I will share with you how you can steal those memories, those emotions, and make them your own.

I was writing a novel (unfinished, sigh) that involved a chase across Europe. I have visited many places, but to make the novel more authentic, I needed more experiences – I couldn’t afford to travel around for a while, so hijacking memories was my only option.

Fortunately for me, some friends of mine had found themselves stranded in Europe at the time of the Icelandic volcanic ash. On a mission to get home, they flew short flights, and took train journeys, spending each night in a different hostel.

Sitting down, I asked them to walk me through each hostel. From standing outside right through to the small little details such as the cracks on the wall. I wanted to know about staff, other visitors, the little tidbits of conversation overheard when walking by. It sounds simple, but this task can be somewhat tiresome. Some people just can’t get around to the idea of sharing every detail, thinking that, ‘it was tatty but friendly, oh and the walls were orange’ is enough information for you, but eventually they give you so much you couldn’t possibly include it all. Once you have gone through this process once, they are always eager to share, how many people truly want to hear another’s experience down to the finest detail? They get as much from this process as you, the writer does.

One word of warning, if they offer to show you photos, do NOT accept. It will completely ruin the process, that place you have just imagined will be stripped back to reality and the haze will be gone. Keep the haze, the haze is good.

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2 Responses to “Writing What You Know?”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. ‘Excuse Me, Can I Ask You Something?’ « Poeta Officium - April 15, 2012

    […] Writing What You Know? (elenaransley.net) Spread the LoveLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  2. Just Because I Write It, Doesn’t Mean I Do It « Elena Ransley - April 11, 2012

    […] post was about learning about what you don’t know, to write what you do know. Today we are […]

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