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.

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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.

NaNoWriMo Prep in October – The Writing Playlist

Every year I prepare a writing playlist specifically for NaNoWriMo. Sometimes I need absolute silence to write, other times I can do with some tunes to get me in the right frame of mind.

I find that film soundtracks work best of all.

This year I discovered Spotify. It’s a free web player with a massive library of albums. The only downside is that sometimes they put in ads, but that’s OK because they tend to only last for about 30 seconds. It can be frustrating interrupting your music flow, but for a free web player i won’t be complaining.

NOTE – I tried using the Spotify app on my phone, but it’s not the same. Selecting a playlist led to other random songs being played as well. Only on the web player and on tablets does it actually do what you want it to do.

Here is this year’s playlist, thanks to Spotify:


Spotify says it’s about 6 hours worth of music. It’s remarkably different to my 2011 NaNo soundtrack which eventually consisted of one song played on repeat.

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!

Top 5 Tips for NaNoWriMo Preparation

Hi lovelies. I’f you’re like me, you can’t ‘pants’ a novel – that is, write one by the seat of your pants. I have to know where my novel is going so that I can actually see the end – I’m a ‘plotter’. With NaNoWriMo around the corner, I’m going to share some tips on how I get ready for the event.

1. Tell someone about the novel.

Tell someone. Anyone. Your mum. Your dog. The neighbour’s visiting cousin. When I start to verbalise something that is only an idea, parts that didn’t fit before seem to fall into place. The climax that has been eluding me, for example.

2. Write down every fleeting bit of inspiration.

I carry a notebook with me everywhere I go in case I think of something awesome. I need to write it down before I forget, and some time in the future wonder, ‘what was that awesome thing I thought of that solved several problem but now I can’t remember?’

3. Find a template that works for you.

By ‘template’ I mean a plan. I use a three-act plot of inciting incident, act one, act two (with a point of no return halfway through), act three, and climax. That’s what works for me – of course, there is room in there to be flexible. I don’t plan every single thing – sometimes my entire act is based on a single image. I’ve tried planning using a Hero’s Journey template, but so far that’s only worked for another WIP, not my current NaNoNovel.

4. Sort out inspiration beforehand.

I make a playlist for my NaNo time. I put my earplugs in, and then I can write straight for two hours to get my words done. Last year it consisted of only one song, because Nightwish released their single Storytime at the beginning of November and I’d been starved of new Nightwish music for a while. This year I’m turning to game scores – I like to use instrumental music because it’s less distracting, but it can’t be something I’m too familiar with or I’ll stop writing to listen and pretend I’m some amazing violin maestro. Game and film scores are really great for me because they’re not meant to be the focus of their media and are often understated yet beautiful.

5. Find someone to write with.

Competition can be healthy. Sometimes. Usually in the writing world it’s not. You don’t want to compare you cover or sales figures or the amount of words you write every day to someone else all the time. During November, it’s OK to be competitive with your wordcount. On the other hand, don’t let the fact that someone else is writing 50K a day (as I believe happened in my first NaNo) get you down. Their word count doesn’t matter: only yours does.

Storm Front Free for Five Days Only

Hi guys!

Things have been a little quiet on the blogosphere lately, and I can’t even blame writing a new book. I got to 26K words on The King’s Phoenix and decided I needed to take a break because of my day job, which is all kinds of crazy intense at the moment. I value my down time only a lot and instead of stressing myself out over writing deadlines, I am now trying my best to relax in my leisure time just so I can cope with the demands of my day-to-day life.

At this point I’m not sure if I’ll be continuing TKP for all of August and saving Aura for the real NaNoWriMo. The words are flowing just fine – the story’s not a problem. The problem is my extremely limited time and the fact that making my self-imposed writing deadline was stressing me out.

See, I used to read other writing blogs. And they are all about peddling as much new material as possible. Put out one book, get writing, put out another book, ad infinum. Fill every spare moment with writing. If you produce less than 10K words a day you’re a loser. If you can’t produce a brand new book every three months you’re not doing right. These advice givers also tend to have huge backlists, whereas I’m producing entirely new material. The fact that they were at some point traditionally published doesn’t hurt.

So I’ve stopped reading advice. My writing was becoming too much like work and at this point in time that’s not something I can handle. I’m taking my own time. The book will come when it comes.

Also! Storm Front is free on Amazon.com for five days. Go get it!  Especially because the new Tina Storm book is coming out later this year.