Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What you don't . . . know!

There's a saying out there write what you know! Yeah, it's a simple enough saying, straight forward, and pretty self explanatory. But . . .

What if I want to write about a margarita drinking gladiator named Tyrone? I don't know crap about gladiators, though I do know a thing or two about margaritas! Ay-yi-yi-yi, I am the Frito bandito!! Ooops, flashback to childhood - hate it when that happens.

What if I want to write about Elves, Dragons, Wizards, Hobgoblins or . . . Trolls??? I don't know crap about those things either . . . no matter what Robyn might say on the Troll issue!

What's an aspiring writer to do when he/she is supposed to write about what they know . . . and that know is limited to the mundane (well, sometimes, but after a few margaritas . . . ) world they live in?

Ah, dear followers, we do this neat little weaving thing . . . we take what we know and what we don't know and we toss them in a bowl, add a bit of lime juice, a splash . . . sorry, margarita recipe . . . mix them up and, well, write.

Yes, it's that simple. We write. We take the familiar (what we know) and add the unfamiliar (what we don't know, just in case any one is keeping track, because I know I'm not) and do the absolute best we can.

I mean, what did Stephanie Meyer know about vampires? J.K. Rowlings about boy wizards? Tolkien about Elves and Orcs and Dragons and one ring to rule them all? They knew the basics found in books, movies, mythology, and used their talents to make the unfamiliar familiar! Geesh, try saying that one a few times!

So, why am I writing this post? Well, I went off to the Enchanted Forest the other day . . . okay, that's what I posted on Facebook, but in actuality I was in organization mode in the house, cleaning my desk, closets, drawers, and just getting everything in tip top shape. Anyhow, I was thinking about a new story idea and was trying to figure out how to make it work, since I really didn't know that much about some of the characters that can be found in the Enchanted Forest. Yeah, I know the basics, I know what I've read, but how do I put that brief snippet of knowledge into a workable format?? Well, I take what I know - perhaps some margaritas, modern day - and work in what I don't know and just see what happens.

Yes, it's as simple as that. I can google trolls (hey, Robyn's blog came up, imagine that - ha!!) and find out all sorts of information. I can then add that information to what I already know and suddenly Tyrone (he's the margarita drinking gladiator, just in case you forgot) is having margaritas with a few trolls, and an elf at the local Mexican restaurant. Yes, it's an odd grouping, but they're getting along quite well, and there is the fact that the Troll Queen was kidnapped and if not returned to her throne by Midnight on March 12, 2015, the world as they know it will end . . .

Yes, it sounds like a strange concept, but . . . it's really not. It's all in taking the familiar and unfamiliar and merging them into something . . . brilliant. Yes, it's been done before, time and time again, there are no new ideas, just old ideas reimagined in a brilliant fashion. We can write about vampires that walk during the day in 2010 or an Elf that becomes President of the United States in 2012 or a witch that ascends the throne of Ireland in 1999 because we just take what we don't know (witches, elves, trolls, vampires, whatever) and add it to what we know, and pretty soon, the fingers are flying across the keyboard and the words are filling up the screen.

So, even if you don't know crap about vampires, witches, elves, trolls, dragons, or whatever, it doesn't meant you can't write about them. Put those characters in places you do know - today, here, now - and then, maybe during the revision stage, change up the today, here, now to something different and see what happens.


p.s. For those not in the know, Robyn and I had a comment-conversation yesterday about Trolls. She actually had the nerve to accuse me of being a Troll. I mean, seriously . . . Yeah, we had a bit of fun with each other yesterday, and thus she earned a place in Troll History! Ha!


Marybeth Poppins said...

I totally know ALL about the future...



Ok well I don't, but I totally pretended to in my book.

If I only write what I know then there leaves no room for me to pretend and that is super boring. :)

So please go write about your enchanted forest with Margaritas and Trolls!

Heather said...

It's OK, Marybeth, I know about the future, too!!

I think you can also write about the emotions of what you know. Depressing, but I know a lot about death and dying and what it's like the deal with that, so that's a major theme in my book. I don't really know what it's like to live in the future or deal with a tyrannical government, but I've experienced feelings of helplessness and had to dig myself out of crazy, impossible situations. That's another way that "writing what you know" can come in. Though taking vampires and putting them in a high school, then just changing the high school setting in revisions is another great way to approach it...(wait, I think Stephenie Meyer forgot a step somewhere.)

Scott said...

Marybeth - it's the 'creative liscense' of spicing up what you know that's the fun part of writing. I took a semi-monthly event - friends gathering for margaritas - made some changes, and ended up with a brilliant idea. I took the what I didn't know and just ran with it, making up things as I went, and tying everything together in a pretty neat package. I think the 'what we know' part is the foundation for our writing, but the what we don't know, the what we can imagine, is the rest of the structure.

Heather - I agree. The emotions of what we know can provide so much inspiration. There was a blog post about that somewhere, can't remember where. I think what Stephanie Meyers, and other authors before her did, was take vampires and put them in a familiar setting. Anne Rice did an excellent job with her vampire series that pretty much ended up in present day. I think, if done right, that little crafty trick is one of the best - take the here and now, add a dose of something exciting, and make it work!


beth said...

I think the phrase "write what you know" is more valid not in terms of world building or even characters, but in terms of emotion. Truth is important--but not the truth as to whether there can be a margarita drinking troll, but the truth in whether he is believable as a being.

Davin Malasarn said...

I think weaving the truth into what you don't know is exactly how most writers think, or should be thinking. "Write what you know" is a generalization that leads too many new writers astray, so it's great that you clarified this!

Scott said...

Beth - I agree . . . to a certain extent. I think the emotions we, as writers, bring to our work is a huge, huge part of that work . . . but not everything. We have to bring knowledge - whether from our own life experiences, those of people we know, or through in-depth research - to our writing as well and, often, especially the last two, those things are the things we don't know but incorporate them into our writing. In the end, lack of knowledge can often be the detrimental part of a novel. We, as writers, must learn - however that may happen - all about what we want to write about, whether witches, wizards, elves or trolls, and then, being the genius individuals we are, we must put our own stamp on those characters, and I really think that is done, not only with the infusion of emotion, but with what we, as individuals, know about life.

Scott said...

Davin - when I first began writing, I wrote fantasy, epic fantasy, big, long, drawn out, epic fantasy. Somewhere along the way, I switched to contemporary - here, now, today - fiction. It was much easier to write because I knew so much more about here, now, today, than I did about the world I created in my fantasy writing. In fact, when I incorporated some here, now, today into my fantasy writing, things seemed to flow much better.

I think that using what we know as stepping, or foundation, stones to build upon, is the basis of great writing. Research is really just another brick in the building. In the end, it's all about our abilities as writers to incorporate what we know with what we don't know into believable characters and situations.

Jayne Martin said...

Very good post. Now I want to drink Margaritas and date Trolls. Wait... I've done that.