Write What You Know: Knowing More Than You Put On The Page

knowing more

As a writer, I feel the need to really know my characters, their situations, their props and settings.

For The Edge of Darkness, that wasn’t so hard. It was largely a made-up world, set in deep space on a spaceship and the weapons used were also made up.

Internet-Based Research

I did some research on amputees and prosthetics to try to get a feel for what Max might be feeling as a cyborg with a robotic arm. I researched what kind of food could theoretically be grown on a spaceship. I researched some other science-y things. But when I wrote the story, I probably knew a lot more than I was putting in to the book.

With Winter Witch, one of my characters wears a monocle. I had no idea how monocles stayed put, so I did some research to better understand my character. I found out how someone inserts and wears a monocle, and I felt like I had a strong grasp on the eyepiece and I wrote it into the book.

When I mentioned the research to friends, another author piped up that she was interested in how people wore monocles. I was surprised, because I was sure I’d read one of her characters in one of her books I’d read actually did wear a monocle. I was surprised because this author didn’t know how her character wore a monocle and she clearly hadn’t done the research into finding it out. Maybe she didn’t care. Maybe it wasn’t important. The character wore a monocle and that’s all we needed to know.

penguin-33203_640

Write what you know.

“Write what you know” is probably one of the most repeated pieces of writing advice out there. And it’s true, you should write about what you know. But you can always expand upon what you know by research.

As for me? I didn’t feel comfortable writing about a character who wore a monocle until I knew exactly how a monocle worked. I think it’s an issue with my perfectionism that I needed to research something so foreign to me. But I didn’t want to make some basic mistake that a monocle-wearing fan might point out in the book.

My character doesn’t even take his monocle off or put it back on, so I’m not quite sure why it was so important to me to know these things. Maybe for future reference? I’m sure I only mention the monocle in passing.

The research I did certainly wasn’t earth-shattering, but as a writer I felt like I needed to know more than I was putting on the page.

I think that’s why we’re told to write what we know.

Advertisements

NaNoWriMo Prep in October – Planning

I’ve been super busy this year producing work under a couple of different pen names, but I always find November’s NaNoWriMo to be a good writing exercise and time to produce something under my real name.

I’ve done NaNoWriMo every year since 2010. Two of the books I completed and self-published under NaNoWriMo were highly praised. The third is currently being looked at by a publisher. We’ll ignore the year my cat and computer both died and I lost half the novel I was writing. I still haven’t quite recovered from that and can’t bring myself to re-write the lost novel.

downloadMy advice? BACK IT UP.

But anyhow, it’s October again and time to start my NaNo prep.

A few months ago I won a pre-made book cover in a giveaway, and I decided to build a story around the cover.

I still wasn’t sure what I was going to do for NaNo 2014, but I pretty soon managed to settle on a character, figure out her goal, throw some obstacles in the way and develop a plot.

I’m a planner. If I don’t know what’s going to happen in the novel I sit there staring at the screen.

Conversely, if I know how the story’s going to end, I normally don’t feel the urge to complete it.

(Which is probably why I have so many unfinished novels.)

I’m planning my new novel using the three act plot structure.

Act 1 ‘Exposition’:

  1. Setup
  2. Inciting incident
  3. First turning point – where the hero accepts their new calling

Act 2 ‘Rising Action’:

  1. Obstacles and progress
  2. Mid-way point – a major setback
  3. More obstacles and higher stakes.
  4. Second turning point – what I call ‘the point of no return’.

Act 3 ‘Resolution’:

  1. Stand up and fight – the final push.
  2. Climax
  3. Resolution

This is the structure I’ll be following in writing my novel. Let’s hope I can stick to it!

NaNoWriMo Day Two: Just Do It

I can think of a million different reasons why I didn’t want to do NaNoWriMo this year. Well, not a million. Three at most.

1. My cat had to be put down literally only a few days ago. Big whoop, I know, she’s just an animal, blah blah blah. Actually, she was a member of my family that has been my sister for twenty years. I’ve cried every day. I didn’t want to write, but it’s a very good distraction. When I get thinking about my cat I just want to do nothing, and that’s not very productive, is it?

2. I don’t have a municipal liaison. My former liaison was a kick-ass firebrand who got us all working and winning the North-West English word wars my very first time. I don’t have that kind of support this year because I’m in Australia: Elsewhere.

3. I’m starting a new, more demanding job halfway through NaNoWriMo. But hey, that’s just another challenge, right? If I can get 50K words down in a month while holding a more difficult, time-consuming job, that makes my achievement greater, right?

So yes. Yesterday I didn’t write anything. But today, as many intelligent people have stated, there’s nothing to it. Just sit down at your typewriter/notepad/keyboard and open up a vein.

I’ve written 1265 words today. I may write more later. I may not. I am not feeling the pressure this month to keep to the word count. I am in love with the process itself, gently re-discovering my love of words after an enforced hiatus.

Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie: why reviews are subjective, and subjective reviews are good.

Last week I saw Frankenweenie, Tim Burton’s new animated flick about the lengths a boy will go to to keep his pet dog.

It wasn’t the greatest movie ever, but it was entertaining. I, however, had a massive emotional response. See, the story is vaguely based on Frankenstein. If you haven’t seen it, it’s not spoiling to say that Victor brings his dog Sparky back to life after he’s hit by a car.

In other news, my twenty year old cat is currently dying of a kidney disease, and I’m very sensitive about it. The vet suggested to me that she might need to be put down. I can’t really cope with the idea of losing my cat that I’ve had since I was six years old. Watching a film about a boy who refuses to let go of his pet really upset me. It made me think about my cat and how I’d do anything to keep her alive and how I’d bring her back to life if it were possible. It made me think about how in the worst case scenario, she’s only got a few more months to live. It made me think about how torn up I know I’m going to be when she does die.

So when Sparky got hit by the car, I cried. When Victor grieved, I grieved. When Sparky risked his second life to save Victor, I bawled. I full-on ugly cried in a cinema filled with children, trying my hardest to keep silent because unless you knew that my cat was dying you’d think I was some weirdo at the cinema who couldn’t control herself.

The huge emotional response I had is entirely subjective. If I’d never had a pet, maybe I wouldn’t have even batted an eye. Maybe I wouldn’t care about some stop-animated dog and his devoted best friend. Maybe I would have left the film going ‘Meh’ instead of agreeing that it was an awesome film.

This is subjectivism. I will tell anyone who wants to listen about the response I had, why I had it, and how the film made me feel. If I was to look at the film objectively, I’d have to ignore the fact that my companion I’ve had for 20 years is dying and this obviously helped me frame the film.

Subjectivity is awesome. This is why the subjective reviews of books are so great. When I read reviews (not of my own work – I don’t do that) I want to know the opinion of the person as an individual. I value their opinion as an individual with a completely different background to me and different tastes in books or films and everything they bring to the book or film. I want the piece of their soul they put into their review when they feel passionately about the work.

If I want objectivity, I will read a review in some boring broadsheet. Those guys are paid to be boring and non-offensive.

UPDATE:

I wrote this post on Friday while I was at work. Today it’s Saturday, and my cat is dead. The end.