“Write About What You Know”?
If you’ve ever taken a beginning creative writing class, you’re heard this chestnut.
There’s some truth to it.
This may sound odd coming from someone who writes about shape-shifters, vampires, gods and goddesses who intervene in human affairs, satyrs, and various other beings who probably don’t live in your neighborhood. And let’s not forget that Lions’ Pride and several of my other works involve male-male sex. I can’t exactly experience that first hand. (I suppose I could watch…but my husband won’t cooperate.) And thankfully I’ve never run into someone as cold-bloodedly dangerous as Agent Shaw, the villain in Lions’ Pride.
And yet, in some way, I still write what I know.
I may not ever have lived in a world where magic works on a grand scale or where that sexy guy you meet might be from a different species, but I know the rules that my various worlds operate by. The world in the Duals and Donovans series is very different from the setting for the Seasons of Sorania series, each with their own laws and logic. I’m a pantser, mind you, so the first draft in each world is…interesting. But by the time I’m revising, I know the place and its extraordinary inhabitants inside out.
Then there are specific details.
I’ve certainly never met a pirate, but the contemporary hero of my novella Pirate’s Booty draws a lot on a friend of mine, a nautical historian whose pet peeve is bad movie pirates, followed closely by impossible movie ships. I know how my friend can rant—so I knew how my hero would. (My hero’s looks, fondness for whiskey and bondage kink are entirely my responsibility.)
Lions’ Pride features feline heroes because I know cats. I live with three house cats now and have lived with up to eight at a time. I researched big-cat behavior for another book (Cat Scratch Fever, written with a coauthor under the name Sophie Mouette) which is set at a conservation facility for endangered felines. I have enough information to create what I think is a plausible mix of feline and human behavior. The next Duals and Donovans book, Foxes’ Den, came about because I’m fascinated with both Japanese folklore and Trickster tales. But I was sure to research actual fox behavior to inform how the shifter characters act.
Witchcraft? I’m a neo-pagan. I was able to draw upon a certain amount of contemporary paganism to construct the underlying logic of Donovan magic. I’ve never met a real-life Wiccan who can do anything as extraordinary as what Elissa and her kin do, but the tools she uses to focus are based on actual techniques for meditiation and altering consciousness.
As for the sex scenes…that’s a question people always ask those of us who write on the erotic end of the spectrum: “Have you done everything you write about?” I’ll plead the Fifth as far as actual sex acts are concerned. Let’s just say I’m not inhibited and my marriage is very happy. But the part that needs to be “what you know,” in my opinion, isn’t the acts in any case. Those you can research. It’s amazing what you can find on the Internet. Just don’t look while you’re at your day job!
“Writing what you know” here applies to emotions. You may not have ever experienced the exact combination of feelings your hero and heroine are going through. Considering how we love to torture our characters and put them into angst-ridden situations even in the bedroom, that’s probably a good thing. But if you know your characters well enough, you can still know how they’d feel—and make readers believe it.