Thursday, March 22, 2012

Should You Write What You Know?

Sooner or later all writers face the proverbial "blank page". They are faced with a deadline and can't think of anything to write about. If I was lucky enough to see the world in conflict, crisis and resolution, I would have no problem writing what I see around me. But choosing a subject from what I know can lead to dull and mundane ideas when I am thinking that nothing ever happens to me! How do I slove this dilemma?

It is true that you must draw on your own experience when trying to write a story. But the trick is to identify what is interesting, unique and original in that experience that will surprise and attract the reader. Looking at what you know in a new light will draw out new fiction from old experiences. Recognize among all the paraphanelia of your mind a situation, idea, perception or character that you can turn into a story.

The kind of "writing what you know"that is least likely to produce good fiction is trying to tell exactly what happened to you at exactly such and such a time. Probably all good fiction is autobiographical in some way, but the awful, or hilarious, or tragic thing you went through may offer as many problems as possibilities when you start to turn it into fiction.

Try writing a brief summary of what happened, no more than a hundred words. What kind of story might this be? Can the raw material of incident, accident and choice be reshaped, plumped up, pared to the bone, differently spiced? You experienced whatever it was chronologically, but is that the best way to bring its meaning out? Perhaps you experienced it over a period of months or years; what are the fewest scenes in the least amount of time that could contain the action? If you are the center of the action, then you must be thoroughly characterized. Soon you can begin to shape your fiction into an idea that has turned that blank page into a full, exciting story!


  1. Artists are always being admonished to "paint what you know". And we sometimes end up feeling the same way as you writer types! So I LOVE this post... it's chock full of ideas to take the essence of a thing, look at it differently and re-interpret it. I'm going to keep this list, since I can tell it's going to be very useful. :-)

  2. Rettakat: I used to rebel when someone would tell me to write what I know. I'd say: But I don't know anything! The amazing thing is, we have so many ideas inside us, we just have to figure out in what order they need to come out!

  3. Great thoughts and helpful ideas! Visiting from the A to Z Challenge and looking forward to what you might post in April! Enjoy!

    Elaine, A Heart 4 Heaven, #78

  4. Great ideas. Thanks!

  5. Elaine: Glad you could stop by! I'm sure I'll be seeing you soon.

    Susanne: Thank you for sharing!

  6. Nothing wrong with creating everything from imagination. Think where the world would be today if Jules Verne had only written what he knew.

    New follower here. I’m getting a head start on visiting my fellow “A to Z”ers. I look forward to visiting again.


  7. Sylvia: Welcome! Imagination is what makes us unique from everyone else. It's combining the two that makes us create new things.

    Will see you on the A to Z challenge, I'm sure.

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  9. Interesting post. I am here from the A to Z, and scrolled down the page, reading as I went. Writing what I know is something I have wondered about. I had not done it until last November during NaNoWriMo. I had a couple of huge tasks in that time period, so I decided going into it that I was going to write what I knew--to save myself some research time. I revisited the manuscript a couple of weeks ago, and though it is very, very (I mean very) rough, it was good. The essence of the story still spoke to me. Typically, my characters are in another time or another galaxy ;-) Nice to "meet" you, Karen :-)