Write What You Know
by Alison Pensy
Firstly, I'd like to thank Jo for inviting me to be a guest on her blog. It's an honor to be here. I hope you enjoy the post.
I'm going to talk today about how drawing upon life's ups and downs can give your writing and your characters more depth.
Something very sad happened to me last Monday. It was inevitable, I knew that, I was just hoping for a little more time. At around 9:30am I put my arms around a very special friend who'd been in my life for twelve years, buried my face in her soft fur as the vet did his thing, and sobbed into her neck as she fell asleep in my arms never again to wake up. It was possibly the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life. One of my best friends had just died in my arms. I felt that time momentarily stood still, I wished it would because I didn't want to let her go. My body was racked with sobs, my face would have fit neatly into a zombie movie without the need for stage makeup, and my heart hurt, it literally hurt, and continued to do so for hours after I'd left the vet's office carrying an empty collar, and made my way home.
Experiences like this are tough, but we all go through various things in life that, although being the last thing we are thinking at that moment in time, have the potential to give our writing much more depth. How else would you be able to describe the emotional and physical pain of losing a loved one to any kind of degree without experiencing it? Yes, you could say it was gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, traumatic, or countless other adjectives, but would you know that you actually got pains in your chest from it? I didn't, until I just experienced it the other day. Would you know how to describe it to a degree that the reader could feel it too? Maybe not.
It's not just the sad stuff. Life is full of ups and downs, twists and turns. When I first started writing, I kept seeing the same quote, time after time…"Write what you know." When I first saw this, I took its meaning literally because the book I happened to be writing was using my adventures backpacking around Australia when I was twenty. I threw in some romance, which wasn't part of my real-life adventure, and ended up with an NA romantic comedy. I am probably the clumsiest person on the face of the earth and I got myself a job as a jillaroo (Aussie cowgirl) working on a sheep station in the outback for six months. How I got out with all my limbs intact is still a mystery. For goodness sakes, they let me loose with a tractor, and a motorbike! Me… on a motorbike…chasing sheep *clutches sides*. I was the quintessential Bridget Jones and all around comic relief for the family who owned the station. Writing what I knew for that novel was not a stretch.
It wasn't until I had the urge to write a fantasy novel that the true meaning behind "write what you know" hit me between the eyes. I didn't know anything about faeries, dragons, red caps, Valkyries etc, other than what I'd read in other fantasy novels or on Wikipedia, let's face it, who does? It was then I realized "write what you know" went much deeper. If I infused my characters with emotions that I had felt throughout various experiences in my life, I could make them more three dimensional. They would come alive on the page and to the reader.
It doesn't stop there, though. Writing who you know can also help develop some very interesting characters and it can be very cathartic to boot *rubs hands together*. I had a lot of fun using an ex-boss, who made my early career life a living hell, as the basis for a slimy toad of a character in one of my books. Someone else I had the misfortune to know was also drawn upon for another less than savory character. Then there's the good guys. Lots of my hero characters portray traits from my real life hero…my husband. The female characters portray traits from my BFF's, the list is endless really, but writing what and who I know has certainly helped me become a better writer.
How about you? Do you draw on situations and/or real people who've impacted your life whether good or bad, to help you develop your characters and give them more depth?
~ Alison Pensy
How was that for a guest post? Pretty awesome, huh? Get your fingers in the clicking mode and go give Alison a follow on Goodreads or give her author page on Amazon a like.
Because I'm playing a bit of catchup here, you'll get to meet Ms. Rachel Harris on Thursday, so be sure and come on back for that!
Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!