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Write What You Know?

November 10, 2014

As writers, we hear this phrase all the time: Write what you know. What does that mean exactly? I’ve held jobs in nearly every aspect of the restaurant business. I’ve done door-to-door sales. I worked construction. I’ve even been an actor in several low budget independent films and TV pilots. Does that mean that everything I write will be about these things? That would make for some pretty boring stories.

Quentin Tarantino wrote about mobsters and martial arts bad guys. Joss Whedon wrote about vampire slayers and space cowboys. Do you think either of them had knowledge of either of those things? I don’t think ANYONE has first hand knowledge of some of those things. The point is you can acquire knowledge that you don’t have. As for things that no one knows about (do vampires really sparkle in the sunlight), it doesn’t matter.

Write what you know means make sure you know what you’re writing about. Make it believable. If your audience can’t believe it, they’ll lose interest. It also means, use the knowledge you have of people. It doesn’t matter if you’re a space cowboy or a bartender, you will probably have the same reaction to being dumped by the girl you love. The heart of every story is about relationships. Firefly wasn’t just about a space cowboy, it was about the relationships Mal had with his crew. Pulp Fiction wasn’t about a mobster, but his relationships with his people. True Romance wasn’t about a comic book salesman trying to unload a substantial amount of cocaine. It was a love story between that comic book salesman and a former (only one day on the job) prostitute.

Write what you know about how people react in given situations. Everyone has had relationships. You’ve had a relationship with your parents, your siblings, your boss, your girlfriend(s). You know how people react in certain situations. The story is about those relationships. Work them into whatever idea your twisted little mind can conjure up. Just make sure you research how a head might explode if you shoot someone in the face at point blank range in the back seat of a car, if that’s the kind of thing you’re going to write about.

One Comment
  1. Knowing your character in what ever reality of fantasy realm is the key to making it believable, good point Tony, every story is in the knowing of your character.


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