Friday, March 18, 2011

Vicious Half-Truth #1: Write What You Know

To make a story vivid and compelling, to make it real, write what you know.  Relive your family dramas, the life goals you achieved through tears and self-sacrifice, or your romances that flowered or never were.  Visualize fields you’ve run through, ocean vistas that overwhelmed you, or quiet fireplaces with a cat or dog curled up. 

But what if you run out of what you know after just a couple stories? 

Well then, fake it. 

James Rollins once told of how he researched on the internet a particular village in Latin America to include in his story.  After the book was published, someone called him up, saying he had visited that same village a few years ago, and wondering when Rollins had been there.  Research these detailed accounts of famous and obscure locations, including amateur videos -- like this panoramic view from the Areopagus in Athens, which starts with the Acropolis. 

Read to your weaknesses.  Use the popular-level magazines with articles by experts.  Afraid of guns?  Read a copy of Soldier of Fortune, cover to cover.  Think psychology is bunk?  Pick up an issue of Psychology Today.  Even better, participate.  If you wonder if sexy CSI workers really use those nifty techniques you see on TV, catch a writers’ conference with a CSI speaker -- it’s eye-opening and disturbing at the same time. 

Eat in fast food joints to hear everyday dialogue.  Listen to cliques of teenage girls in malls.  If you don’t know what workmen sound like, watch Dirty Jobs with Mike Rove.  If you need to add some elitist language, watch one of those reality modeling or fancy cooking shows. 

Are your plots recognizable and your characters feel like stereotypes?  Join the club.  In how many Bruce Willis movies does a villain pop up in the second to last scene?  When you saw Inception right after seeing Alice in Wonderland, didn’t the characters seem familiar?  Or even copied?  Add fresh plot twists and personality quirks to fake it with the best of them. 

Read widely.  Fake boldly.  Never let them see you guessing.  

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Helpful advice for all aspiring writers. Thanks for the great reminders of sage truth.

Anonymous said...

Love your advice: Read widely, Fake boldly,Never let them see you guessing... Good advice for many things in life!

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