Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Should Fiction Writers Stick to What They Know?

A friend of mine from Northern Colorado Writers, Peter D. Springberg, MD, FACP, has started a new website and blog ("Eat like the Doc does") on healthy living with a focus on healthy eating.

Peter's medical and career credentials are very impressive. Even more important to his healthy lifestyle project and the weight loss manual he is writing, Peter practices what he teaches. He is trim and fit and full of energy.

This is a perfect example of writing what you know.

In addition to this project, Peter is working on a full-length memoir and also writes short stories. I found The Hat Decides at the website Immigrant Journeys. Since this story took place in the late 1800s, and Peter wasn't born until 1941, he had to learn about the historical context and the incident secondhand through stories and research, and then write the tale with dialogue and descriptive words to make it come alive.

This is an example of writing what you don't know.

Don't hesitate to write what you know, especially if you are, like Peter, an expert on a topic that will interest thousands of readers.

But don't let that little dictum we've heard so often--Write what you know--keep you from exploring new worlds in fiction. Listen to the stories of elders, read books in all genres, study nonfiction on topics of interest, and let your imagination run wild. If one certain fiction writer had stuck to what she knew, we wouldn't have Hogwarts, would we?

How about you? Do you stick to what you know? If not, how much time per week do you spend on research for your current project?

13 comments:

Jemi Fraser said...

I like to take the "write what you know" dictum in its widest sense. I know a lot of things from reading, watching, listening, and imagining, not just from actual experience. And that's the way I write. It would be so dull if we stuck to what we've experienced!

Drue Allen said...

My goodness. You know there's always a SLIVER of what I know in my books. It slips in there. But the BULK of my books are NOT what I know--otherwise I'd be writing you from the depths of some federal prison. Ha ha.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I can't write what I know and be a mystery writer. :) Otherwise, I'd be a really scary person. You too!

Elizabeth
Mystery Writing is Murder

Patricia Stoltey said...

I'm shocked, ladies. All this time I thought you were writing from personal experience. LOL

Paul D. Brazill said...

If truth is stranger than fiction yu're not trying hard enough!

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

If I stuck to writing only what I know, I wouldn't have much to say - so thank goodness for Google and the library!)

Karen Walker said...

With memoir, it was easy in the sense that it was my story. With my new project, it's a whole new ballgame and I'm having to research as well as follow my own spiritual journey. It's all connected.
Happy New Year, Paticia.
Karen

Helen Ginger said...

Maybe it should be: Write what you know and write what you can learn.

Now that I've written three nonfiction books, I'm much better and faster at doing research! I plan to put that skill to good use in my fiction.

Helen
Straight From Hel

Carol Kilgore said...

I don't always write about what I know, but I always learn about what I write.

Despite doing a lot of research before I begin a project, it never fails that I always have more to research every day. Sometimes it takes only a few minutes, sometimes maybe an hour or so.

Patricia Stoltey said...

For me, research is ongoing. I even felt reading Maass's "The Fire in Fiction" was more research than writing education because it led me to so many new plot ideas.

Terry Odell said...

I've never killed anyone. Or done half the stuff my characters do. Publisher love it when an author has a platform, but I'm too boring for words. Unless I get to make stuff up. The trick is, you have to have contacts and do research. I also work those things I DO know into my books, but they're on the periphery.

The Old Silly said...

As writers we have to be able to write about all kinds of people and things that we may not have experienced. I takes lots of networking, research, and LIVING, really to write with authority and create believability in a fictional story. I've had a very diverse and rich amount of life experiences from which to draw on, and that helps - but I still have to do my homework, interviews, research, etc., to flesh out what I don't know from first hand experience in my writings.

Good subject. Happy New Year, Patricia!

Marvin D Wilson

Kerrie said...

I write what I know and what I want to know more about. My favorite research was when I was writing an article about Colorado Wineries. I didn't know much before I started, but did when I was done (and had a darn good time researching along the way). I say write what you are passionate about or getting paid big bucks to write.