Writing and Realism

Have you ever had a teacher, family member, friend or acquaintance tell you that to be a good writer, you should write what you know? This idea comes from a very specific school of thought on writing–the thought that to write about something, you must have experienced it personally.

I totally, completely, utterly and fully disagree with this train of thought.

It’s as if people who say “to write, you must write what you know” have never heard of a little thing called imagination, or, you know, creative writing.

I’m pretty sure, for example, Ernest Hemingway personally didn’t have a drink in a rail-station with a young girl that got knocked up, trying to convince her to get an abortion.

Or, you know, I’m almost certain that things like werewolves and vampires don’t exist, yet every other book that is being written for the teen market today has some form of shirtless hot werewolf or vampire within its pages.

Not that I’m complaining. Apparently this dude is shirtless because he’s a werewolve. All male werewolves must be topless after Twilight. Did Stephenie Meyer make it okay to objectify men? Oh no, wait, that was the film 300. Again, not a complaint.

I digress, but the point I’m trying to make is that people write about what they don’t know all the time. There is a big difference between knowing what you are talking about and knowing from personal experience.

Science Fiction, for example, almost always employs a character which is cluelessly thrown into the world and while characters explain what’s going on and how the world works to this character, the readers also get to know what the heck is going on so the unfamiliar imagined realm becomes more real because there is explanation.

Another good tool to use in writing about the unknown is to connect it to something known. While the story you are trying to create might be set in the realm of Middle Earth, the overarching story is about becoming strong enough to defend your home and the people you love.

Yet another awesome plan is to tweak a real story or something real to fit with the mythos you want to create. Want to write a fictional murder mystery? Research real serial killers and get into their head to make your fictional character more real. Want to create a teen romance? View pictures of topless werewolves all day so you can perfectly describe their cut, glistening abs and chest. And abs.

Seriously, are these all CGI abs? Why don’t werewolves ever wear shirts? I really don’t want to read these books to find out.

So be creative and don’t worry about writing what you know–write the story you think is exciting and readable, and that will be the story everyone wants to read along with you.

– Amanda Riggle


    1. thepandabard

      I don’t think experience needs to come in the form of personally going out there and doing it or being intimately linked with the subject matter. Experience can come from research or lots of development and planning from a person’s imagination.

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