“Write what you know!”
This advice is both empowering and limiting. But I think a lot of people experience it as limiting.
When many of us think about what we know, it doesn’t seem out of the ordinary. Our daily lives may not strike us as story material, and unless we have personally experienced something amazing, strange, or unfortunately traumatic, our own lives may not seem to inspire.
When it comes to what genre to write, I prefer to think of it as “Write what you love.”
I love science fiction and fantasy, for many reasons I’ll save for another post. When I thought about writing, I always knew I would write speculative fiction. Not because I personally have battled an enemy mage, or leaped to another star in a hyperdrive ship. But because that’s what I love.
And some things I do know, as every writer does. We know what it’s like to feel things. We know how our hands shake when we’re frightened, how tender our touch is when we love someone, how powerful is desire, or fear, or the need to escape. We know the taste of hot chocolate, the sounds of rush hour, the burn of a scraped knee.
That’s what we need to know – how to be human. That’s what goes into making good characters – understanding of ourselves and of what it might be like to be others, maybe different, but still human.
And that’s what’s empowering. Because we all know this! We just have to learn how to write it. Learning the craft is not always an easy process. It takes time. But it’s possible.
Then we get down to the nitty gritty. There are actually a lot of things we need to know to write. But, except for empathy and curiosity, we can learn those things. Better not try to write a story set on a seagoing vessel if you don’t know what a deck is! Better not write a story about an expedition to a massive planet if you forget the heavy hand of increased gravity.
But you can learn those things. Research, read a lot, write several drafts. Go out and get on a ship. Talk to someone who knows about other planets. Practice, practice, practice. Then, run your story past a good beta reader or critique group for feedback on what you might have missed.
It’s a lot of work to make sure you get the details right. A story can turn on a fact that must be correct.
But you can learn all that. You already know the rest: empathy, curiosity, experience of life. Those are the things you need to give your characters life. And the most important thing is to always write what you love.