Sunday, April 20, 2014

Why you should 'Write what you know'.....

'Write what you know' was a piece of advice that was given to me a wee while back which I think I'm only lately starting to fully understand.

I suppose my first instinct, based on this advice, was to trawl through my life and search in vain for something that I thought other people would be interested in - two things wrong with this,1) my life hasn't been that exciting and 2) why would anyone possibly be interested in anything I had done?

'Write what you know' has multi dimensional connotations, whereas initially I took the statement far too literally, dumb error on my part.

As a child I was brought up as a Catholic; marched to Church on a Saturday for 'confession' and again the following day in 'Sunday Best' for Mass. I was baptised, did the 'Confirmation' bit and so on - I even went to two Catholic Schools - there is an irony in the fact that I am the by-product of a Catholic education. None of this would make interesting material for a novel.

I joined the Army at the age of sixteen, served an apprenticeship as a mechanic and then spent a few years fixing everything from motorcycles to tanks across a number of continents. I also got to do some other soldier stuff which I most certainly couldn't write about. And of course during that time I turned from boy to man, again nothing too exciting in that.

My first book, Russian Redemption, is set to the backdrop of WW2, (I wasn't around at that time). It involves The Kremlin (never been there) and the terrible and inhumane treatment of Russian peasants (wasn't me) during those times. So how could I have written such a book? I did a lot of research to the point where I got to 'know' the subject matter. It's not a story about fixing trucks but there are vehicles involved at various times so my mechanical experience allowed me to bring detail to those parts of the story that gave them depth. It involves firearms; again my military experience gave me the knowledge to write these parts in believable detail, to paint the picture accurately. It also involved gunshot trauma, now there's something you tend not to forget, along with the pungent smell of decomposing flesh, the way it gets into your clothes, your hair and leaves an acrid film in the roof of your mouth, and your tongue. Too far? Well, you get the picture. My point here is that I have no experience of Vampires or Goblins, but I could still write a believable description of the aftermath of a battle from what I know. I could describe the inside of a Church and the scene around from what I know, and associate it with pretty much any genre. And the same could be said for many experiences throughout my fairly uneventful life. Suddenly, my life was a rich vein of writing material, who'd have thought it. To prove this, to myself more than anything, I wrote Fated Encounters, never really intending the story to see the light of day. An example: the description of how the 4.2 litre car responded to the accelerator being pressed to the floor gives just that little bit of detail that helps the reader 'live' the experience.

I use Google as a source of a lot of research and by that I mean 'mechanical' research, just facts, and I think for a story to be believable there has to be some facts. But a story has to have depth, multi level appeal, and this is where 'what I know' belongs; it's the emotions, the finer details, things Google can't give you that bring a book to life. This is why many Authors spend a lot of time with people that have 'experienced' what they are trying to capture - it's difficult to describe fear if you've never felt it, or child birth or exhilaration or even driving a car, if you don't 'know' it, writing about it, describing it so that the reader 'feels it' is virtually impossible (I believe). And top marks should be given to these Authors, they care enough about their story to put themselves through this. Some will just write what they think, or what Google tells them, or what they guess - not good, poor form. It's the difference between an Author of merit, and an 'uploader'.

I think it would be fair to say that every good Author leaves a bit of themselves in the pages of every book they write, I believe they have to, it's part of the formula of a good story.

So, all those years that me and God have spent discussing the purpose of my menial life were wasted - all he had to say was "I'm giving you the experiences you'll need to write a good book". Cheers big fella but ya cudda told me earlier!

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