Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Write what you know

This is an old adage: write what you know. As far as possible I try to apply it to my writing but sometimes this does require that I go out and do stuff I wouldn’t ordinarily do. Like this past weekend, for instance. I climbed a mountain in my area to specifically visit a cave I’d heard a lot about while I was growing up.

I’ve a scene in my current work in progress, an urban fantasy novel entitled Incarna, where my main character climbs the same route late at night during a storm to go hide an artefact.

When I wrote the initial scene, I’d envisioned the route, based on a vague knowledge of the area and a contour map I downloaded off the internet. Not happy with the results, I decided some practical experience was necessary so, on Sunday, myself and my long-suffering husband put on our walking shoes and embarked on our little jaunt.

While my idea of timing was pretty spot-on, the route wasn’t. I’d chosen the wrong route in my novel because the quicker route proved to be the one I’d considered more difficult by looking at the map.

More importantly, while I’ve explored caves in the Table Mountain range before, I’d not gone as deep into a cave in this region before. I’d imagined the floor to be sandy, the rocks dry. In real life they weren’t. They were quite damp and, inside the mountain it was cold, and almost frigid, with the constant drip of moisture in some areas.

When my hands came in contact with the stone, my skin came away with a layer of sludge. There was no convenient sandy floor but uneven rocks. Footing was quite treacherous.

The only happy coincidence was that in my story, I’d written in a small chamber with a narrow lateral passage where my main character squeezes in to hide his artefact. Imagine my surprise when I encountered almost the exact same kind of passage in real life.

Most of what I write is based on some sort of practical experience. I feel this gives a nice ring of authenticity to my stories. While the internet may provide a good starting point, I encourage authors to go out there and try things for themselves.

Are you writing about a mortician? Approach a funeral home in your area and talk to an actual mortician. If you’re not squeamish, go and shadow them for a day or two. Are you writing about someone who’s into fashion design? Do the same. Go out, talk them, see what their day-to-day work is like.

Authors are, by their very natures, Jacks of all trades. We know a little about everything. Make it your mission to engage in novelty at least once a month. Do something out of your usual routine. You’ll be surprised at what you may discover and how this can enrich your writing.

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My next urban fantasy tale, The Namaqualand Book of the Dead, releases on March 21. Read an excerpt here: http://www.lyricalpress.com/store/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=1_22&products_id=313

1 comment:

Brooklyn Ann said...

That is so cool about the passage! I find nifty stuff like that in my research sometimes. Right now I'm researching the founding fathers of heavy metal. It's been a blast.