My guess is that if you’re a writer you have heard the advice “Write what you know.” It’s a big one in the screenwriting community as a form of guidance to help make your content more relatable and your characters and content more realistic.
I don’t necessarily agree. As a creative I believe it is important to get out of your box. I have written an alien story line when I said I didn’t think I would or could, that it just wasn’t my thing, but guess what I found out: I have the ability to make it my thing.
And that is true guidance to anything creative. We all have our talents, our specialties, our strengths, but these can run the gamete when used in accordance with imagination.
As writers it is our jobs to create people out of thin air and make them 3D, make them something readers and viewers will care about, cheer, love, love to hate and obsess over. We have to create intricate worlds that draw people in and keep their interest for however long is necessary and then some.
Write what you know is limiting advice in my opinion often times taken to literally with guidelines too severe, never touching upon the truth of its encouragement. No, I don’t think its a bad idea in general to set stories in places you know, or base characters on people or experiences you’ve known or had, but how far is that really going to get you? How many stories at most?
I have never had an alien encounter (finger crossed this will be the year. ;))I don’t know what it’s really like, or they’re really like, but I do know the stories I like to tell.
In fact I like to base any “fantastical” writing I do in as much realism as I can. That’s what originally drew me to Marvel comics, which then led to my writing, in the first place. I loved this idea that once you got passed their extraordinary superpowers they were real people in a real world, bad guys were just what one would consider their normal. It was all based in the realm of plausibility because it centered around the characters humanity.
That’s when it hits you: we all know people.
So even though I tend to be a genera writer I make it my business and mission to take the spectacle out of the spectacular and make you forget that what you are watching, reading, experiencing is outside the realm of the possible.
Real people first. The phenomenal, satirical, horrific, dramatic or action packed second. By advising you to write what you know they are basically guiding you to write something that will mean something to people. They figure that if you are writing about something that you have experience with you are approaching your writing with more than just a means to an end. You will be approaching it with opinion, emotion, reaction and feeling, all the things the audience cant and wont feel unless you do.
Write an experience but keep it human. When we approach stories with the idea of reality we approach them with the kind of respect that lends them legitimacy.
When you bring your own experience to the table you bring flesh to the bones of structure. That’s because you are bringing a point of view based in human understanding. When we create characters who are based in three-dimensional understanding we suddenly generate interest, intrigue into the world they inhabit and the situations they face.
As the writer if we immerse ourselves in our projected worlds via research, but not just that of topic but of character. When we put ourselves into the minds of these characters, play a bit with their interactions, convictions and quirks we will approach wherever we choose to put them with that touch of reality that lends an *omph* to all they do and express.
You create the experience for yourself by creating interaction between you and your characters. By making your characters more than just plot movers.
We have to create knowledge by putting ourselves in the way of the know. Walk – or in this case write – a mile, see how far it takes you.
Don’t just write what you know, know what you write.