Write What You Know


“You should put in your book a character like me.”

<sigh><smack forehead with palm>

Those words came from my very own dear hubby, who should know better. That would be a recipe for disaster that I am, gratefully, intelligent enough to have seen without putting my literary foot into it first. There was a lot of sidestepping involved here…keeping marital bliss while telling him, politely “Hell, no.”

This time it was a fairly easy domestic trap to escape. I’d already developed the characters and was 3 chapters into the book before I even told him I was writing again. I had not written anything creative in more than 20 years at that point, and was none-too-sure that I’d finish or if I’d finish it that it would meet with my perfectionistic standards and not be immediately trashed.

After I’d finished the third chapter, I figured I could publicly announce…well, admit really, that I’d started writing again. Its sort-of like waiting until the third month of pregnancy before telling your family and friends. The first trimester is the hardest, the sketchiest. If something’s going to go  wrong, it’s most likely to happen in those first few months.

Of course, despite my paranoia, the unthinkable did happen. Despite acknowledging that I had written three chapters, I managed to delete them all accidentally. <sigh dramatically> Figures, right?

But I digress. I wanted to talk about characters, in specific my characters.

Its going to sound strange to admit this, but Louisa May Alcott is one of my heroes. Strange to admit because I consider myself a fantasy writer, and her popular books are anything but. If you don’t know this though…her character of Jo in Little Women was semi-autobiographical, and much  like her character, Louisa May Alcott wrote “Adventure Fiction” as well as her better-well known sickingly sweet books.

A thought emphasized in Jo’s struggles to be published was “write what you know.” And until Jo does…and essentially writes Little Women in the book Little Women, she receives only moderate, hard-won success. But when she opens her heart and writes about her own life, she is miraculously successful.

Yes, this struggle and literary success is a statement about women attempting to be accepted in literary fiction, something Louisa May Alcott was not the first to fight against. Just one of the reasons she’s one of my heroes, along with a long list of women who bust those doors down…and one in particular (Marion Zimmer Bradley) who held the wall open for many, many more women to flood thru. (She has been deified in my own religion, btw.)

But I digress yet again…(SQUIRREL!)

I had a hard time fitting “write what you know” into my writing. In the innocence of my youth, I convinced myself that accepting this as a truth meant that I should write more realistic fiction. After all, how much experience did I really have with the mystical, wonderful world of fantasy? Not like I’d ever seen a fairy, elf or dwarf in my life after all…let alone unicorns or dragons. No, table-top gaming doesn’t count. No, not even if you’ve seen people dressed up as those characters running around GenCon. No, video games do not count either, no matter how many dragons you kill.

I even at one point convinced myself I should write romance novels if only because the plot lines were sooooooo easy for me to figure out…

Finally, I put it together. Write what you know…I know people. The genre can be whatever I want it to be. Romance, fantasy, science fiction, even suspense or horror, because I love people. I love watching people, observing silently in the coffee house, listening to random conversations. I love reading about psychology, even when I think it’s bunk or a lot of hooey. No, I can’t predict what people are going to say, but then I’m not them, I’m not inside their heads.

I’m inside my character’s heads, though. I know them, I know all the details of their lives. I’m a bit obsessive about this, actually. I write entire biographies, almost down to the breakfast cereals they prefer…or don’t. I’m as meticulous about creating these characters as Tolkien was creating his world and the creatures, cultures and languages within it…or at least I like to think so.

Write What You Know.

The first book is finished, well at least the extremely rough draft is. I like to think of it as coal that hasn’t even been pressed into a diamond yet, let alone faceted or polished. There’s a lot of work left to be done. I’m on the first round of revisions, chapter 4 of 10. It’s actually going faster than I’d expected. The first draft was done in about 6 months…if you don’t count the months of incubation time before I started actually writing. It’s only been a couple of weeks now since the first draft was finished, and I’m revising about a chapter a week…about the same pace as I wrote the original, give or take. A few more weeks and round one will be done. Then its on to get some opinions, and a few more books on elements of writing, more slicing-and-dicing, and we’ll see if it’s ready for faceting yet.

There are two very major characters and one major support character who will probably develop into a more major character in the next book. At least that’s the plan. There are a handful of second-characters as well, each of whom have the potential to develop further, and of course a couple of what I tend to think of as contrast characters. They’re not bad-guys, exactly…

And then there’s a whole big, beautiful supporting cast. And this is also where I’m writing what I know. Because the background isn’t filled with Hollywood stereotypes, and I’m enjoying this.

All my characters, from the most important to the least, are a reflection of my world. There’s an infinite variety of races, religions, economic backgrounds and sexual preferences, sometimes in the least expected combinations. Because that’s what I know. That’s my world.

Also because in this book, I am destroying the world. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. <grin> I suppose, much like Battlestar Galactica, there’s a handful of survivors…well, not really. This is about one group of survivors, but there will be others. This group of survivors is my group, my favorite group. Because it’s not just one group of people who all look alike and have the exact same values. To me, it’s the best of this world.

So, yes, there are influences from my real life. That can’t be helped. But none of my characters are completely based on any one person I know. They can’t be. I’m not in their heads…I don’t know why or how my friends (or my husband, for that matter) do what they do. I guess you could say then that these characters are strange combinations between people I know, people I’ve seen and never met, people in the media, and my own strange multiple-personality.

Write What You Know

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About Camylleon

I don't need gurus, and sure don't want to be one. I'm not here to buy stuff or to sell it. I am just another spiritual wanderer, trying to figure it all out. My blend? A little Santeria, a little Polytheism, a little Spiritism and shake gently. Comments are closed...because I detest drama. I'm not completely anti-social though. If you've got questions, shoot me a email. Camylleon at hotmail dot com...
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