July 21 – Writing What You Know

Okay, so this post is actually being written on July 22. I was busy yesterday and forgot all about it until this morning. But I’ll post it as a Thursday post so the archive looks nice. Call it author’s privilege, or creative license, or whatever you want.

Anyway, today I thought I would talk about writing what you know. That’s some writing advice you are practically guaranteed to hear, but there isn’t a lot of agreement on what it really means. So here’s my take on the subject.

Every person has their own experiences that form a basis for who they are. In my case, I am (currently) a forty-plus white male living in Wisconsin. I’ve had many different jobs in the past, including working as a shop clerk, in a restaurant, in construction, on a farm, and as a public servant. I’ve been married twice and divorced once. I have lived on the east coast and the west coast, but lived most of my life in the middle. I have three brothers and one sister, and I have five sons myself. All these things (and more) define me. They make me who I am and guide me in my every day decisions.

So how do I use this to write about Valkyries and demon invasions? In what way does this help me tell a story about a woman who is impregnated by the spirit of a dragon in Florida? The answer is that the story isn’t about the monsters (or aliens for you sci-fi fans). It is about the people. And since I am a “people”, I can write about them.

The Finding Valhalla story isn’t about Valkyries and Ragnarök, it is about a woman falling in love. I’m not a woman, but I have fallen in love. I have also read quite a few romance books (or at least books that have a romantic plot), so I know something about this subject. The demon invasion isn’t my primary focus for Dragons at Dawn, but it is about a man struggling to protect his family any way he can. With five kids, I think I know a little about that (even though my kids may not agree). Six Days to Sabbath isn’t about being kidnapped, it’s about finding faith in adversity, and trust me, I know a lot about that. And “Losing Control” isn’t about having sex with a dragon, it is about making mistakes and paying the price, something I am practically an expert in.

Every day I experience something that I can use in my writing. Something that helps me tell a story about a person and how they deal with their problems. The short story/novella that I am working on now, tentatively titled “The Hunt” is about a young woman trying to feed her tribe. I set the story in the building I work in every day, but it is after the demon apocalypse so it is in ruins. I have the perfect setting, all I have to do is imagine what the building would look like after a decade or so of neglect. I have seen a few abandoned buildings in my past, and I have watched enough disaster movies to be able to figure out how that works. The woman is hunting deer with a bow. I have shot a deer with a rifle, and I have used a bow before, so I know enough to be able to combine the two experiences in order to tell a story about bow hunting. The woman will end up being hunted herself, and I’ll handle that by drawing on my past feelings of persecution and despair, which most of us have at some point in our lives (high school, anyone?).

So write what you know. Tell us a story about the people (or aliens) that you meet every day. We’ll understand, because we have met them too.

See you again on Monday! I promise not to be late….

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