Sunday, August 20, 2006

Write What You Know - Not

Every writer has heard writing truisms that drive them crazy.

"Write what you know" is one of mine. Like so many commandments it has a strong grain of truth in it - i.e. if you don't have a clue about something, there's a good chance you'll make stupid mistakes when you talk about it. Prominent examples in fantasy and science fiction include: biological impossibilities, violations of elementary physics, and historical abominations like the juxtaposing of weapons that are just simply not technologically compatible a-la a katana and rapier duel - barring unusual circumstance that one's going to end real quick with the katana wielder bleeding all over the place. Again, every writer is going to have their very own examples of this. Heck, I've made some of those mistakes myself-ask Lyda about the burial vault incident some time.

However, the big problem with "write what you know" is that if we all did that, there'd be a ton of books about sitting in front of a computer typing, with occasional trips to the bathroom and grocery store, and some especially exciting entries on going to science fiction conventions.

I mean, come on people, science fiction and fantasy are about writing what you think is cool, not what you know. I've never met a vampire or an elf. I've never killed anybody with a sword, though I have fenced. I've never ridden in a rocket ship. And yet I've written about all of those things, and I've even moved people by writing about them, or at least that's what the email in my in-box suggests.

Write what rocks your world, and if you hear a truism that drives you crazy, stick your tongue out at it and keep moving.

So, go ahead, tell instead of showing once in a while, use a cliché, go wild! It's only fiction, and if you're not having fun maybe you should be doing something else. It's not like we make the big bucks.

What's your most hated truism? Don't be shy. Rant away.


~ Mari said...

Write what rocks your world, and if you hear a truism that drives you crazy, stick your tongue out at it and keep moving.

I love that!!

Anonymous said...

There's a saying by..Tolstoy maybe? Something about "If you hang a gun on the wall in scene one, the gun has to be fired before the end of the story." I HATE that. I once wrote a short story where a character had a huge gun collection, and he even discusses it with a friend, but the guns never come into play at all. I did it just to thumb my nose at that truism.

Of course that was the story where one woman kisses another woman who turns out NOT to be a lesbian . . .nobody in my workshop could get their brains around that one. Nobody even NOTICED the guns, they were all torqued over a simple kiss. Good grief. Is it so unthinkable that a straight woman might accept a kiss from a lesbian to see what it is like? Not in MY experience! But oh my, I was told that couldn't possibly happen. So even truisms about human nature aren't true, IMHO.


The only real truism is probably "If it works, then it works."

Kelly McCullough said...

Hey Mari,

Glad you liked it. Hope you're enjoying WebMage.


I love the gun collection thing. Great idea.

~ Mari said...

Kelly - I read WebMage in two days! The review will be up on Apex Online on Sept 7th.

Kelly McCullough said...

Mari - cool! I'll look forward to it.