Sunday, July 31, 2016

Write what you know--or don't.

Write what you know. That’s the big advice aspiring writers are always given.  And there’s some truth to that. It is, after all, the easiest way to make your writing realistic.

I’m a former prosecutor. A Catholic school girl.  White. Middle-class.  Spoiled by my daddy. So guess what my protagonist looks like? If you guessed a younger, thinner, cuter version of me, you’d be right.

But there’s also something to be said for expanding your bag of tricks. Unless I only want to write one book series, or make everything I write from the perspective of the same character–me–I have to write about things I don’t know.

One thing I have found that helps is having someone who is similar to my character read that portion of what I’m writing to check my authenticity. I also read a lot of transcripts in my current job as an appellate attorney.  I pay attention to things like expressions and vernacular used by people of various income brackets, whether it’s doctors testifying as experts, reluctant witnesses, or mothers of murder victims, people very different from me. I also eavesdrop on conversations wherever I go--Walmart is a particularly good place to pick up on some interesting conversations.

Finally, I do a lot of research specifically so I can write about things I don’t know, as well as the numerous things I used to know that I’ve forgotten. With the internet, an answer is just a click away.

I never copy anything verbatim and never borrow anyone’s conclusions or ideas. I also only use information if it appears on enough websites to consider it public or common knowledge, for instance the street name of a drug, the capital of a country, etc., so I’m not violating anyone’s copyright. If I could call someone and get the same answer to the question, it should be safe to use.

Holli Castillo


Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I love listening in on conversations too. Good post, Holli!

Janet Greger said...

I also like imaging what's happening in houses as I walk around my dog. For example, one house had its front windows blown out and a police warning that the building was unsafe to enter. You can guess where my imagination went...

Thanks for the blog.
JL Greger

Amy Bennett said...

One of the perks of working at Walmart... and a winery! Clerks and bartenders are basically invisible, so people really do talk as if we're not there. It used to annoy me when customers would walk up to the bakery counter and stop in the middle of placing a cake order to take a call on their cell phone. That is, until I learned to appreciate how much material I could glean from listening to an unguarded, one-sided conversation!

Thanks for sharing this, Holli!

badge # 979 said...

If you haven't got the creds of life experience, there aren't any substitutes for doing the research and talking to the experts. Also, I am a big fan of eavesdropping in restaurants for dialogue inspiration and nuance. Enjoyed your blog, Lynn Hesse

Nancy LiPetri said...

I like how you explain that what you "don't know" is actually what you've learned about. Much like actors, we writers have to study those who do know, to be convincing. One of the reasons writing fiction is harder work than some people think, huh!