Monday, December 29, 2008

What do you want to know - maybe thats the place to start...

Check out the discussion on Justine larbalestier's Blog today about her take on the advice to 'write what you know'. Being told this when I was a youngster, when I was desperate to be a writer but thought my chances of achieving this were poor, was almost completely dream crushing. Books were full of daring, cunning, wild adventures. Full of intense gripping experiences and unexpected twists. I was a middle class teen prone to book reading, time with my family and study. My wildness was pretty tame. The page would be mostly blank if i wrote what I knew. The write what you know advice crushed my fragile ambition for years. I went to university, then to work, then back to university, got married bought a house and had children; common experiences, the only possible resulting book of which would be a brilliant antidote to insomnia. But of course, with age comes the lovely wisdom of 'sod it' which says advice can be ignored. John Marsden says stories come from imagination and experience, but as Ms Larbalestier reminds us, experience can be borrowed by way of research. If my life is full of everyday chores and the humdrum minutiae of keeping home and family functioning then there is nothing to stop me researching other existences. The viking era interested me and with my sparking idea of how would a 21st century boy cope if thrust into the violent world of the vikings, I found out how the vikings lived through research and wrote 'Jack the Viking'. Ultimately the core of the story is Jack's emotional journey and transformation and these are brought to life by mining my own emotional experience. So yes I write what I know but it's the knowledge that comes from answering questions like 'what would I do if I was in this position' and 'what are the details of this position?' I didn't know I knew these things before I started writing, I worked them out and coloured them in as I went along. I wasn't writing what I knew, I was writing down my discoveries, my answers to questions I thought were interesting. So if you worry about having to 'write what you know' - DON'T. What do you want to know - maybe that's the place to start.

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