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


About ThePandaBard

Amanda is the Managing Editor at The Poetics Project and of The Socialist, the national magazine of The Socialist Party USA. She graduated with a BA in English Education and a minor in Political Science. She is currently enrolled in an English MA program with an emphasis in Literature. During her free time, Amanda enjoys writing poetry, reading, traveling, crocheting, watching entire seasons of campy shows on Netflix, and, of course, writing blogs. You can follow Amanda on Twitter @ThePandaBard, on Pinterest @ThePandaBard, or on Medium @ThePandaBard. You can also find her research on Academia.Edu at Cpp.Academia.Edu/MandaRiggle.
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4 Responses to Writing and Realism

  1. David Antony says:

    I hate to take the Goldilocks approach on this, but I really think that to write authentically, you need both experience and imagination (or empathy).


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