Nothing pulls a reader out of a story like inaccurate facts. Or, even worse, coming to a scene and thinking, “That totally would never happen that way.”
We’ve all heard it before. Write what you know. It’s definitely true. No one wants to read a story by someone who doesn’t have their facts straight, but new knowledge is always easy to attain, especially with the internet. With a few clicks on the keyboard, a writer can find all there is to know about just about any subject.
But there are certain things that can only be learned through life experience. Now, I think that writers as a whole are a more empathetic group than most. We have to really get inside our characters’ heads and see everything through their eyes, but without having similar experiences in our own lives that we can compare them to, how can we put that emotional aspect in our writing?
A book about the basics of cattle ranching might be interesting to some, and written by someone who’s actually worked on a cattle ranch would be much more informative, but it would read like a textbook to me. I want strong characters, and turmoil in those characters’ lives. And I want to know how they react to that turmoil.
Rancher Bob is about to lose everything to the nasty new banker. I know, totally cliché, but it’s early on a Monday. So, we could go over all the technical aspects of that situation—posted notices about foreclosure, lawyer involvement, all the things Bob does to try to keep the ranch—but without getting Bob’s emotional reactions, and all the anger, frustration, and despair involved in a situation like that, the story, in my opinion, would be pretty boring.
And that is what I interpret write what you know to mean. It’s drawing on your own life experience to make your characters believable and their experiences believable. And being able to give the reader something to connect to in that character, to keep them reading. That’s the ultimate goal, right? To have our words read and appreciated, and our characters loved by others as much as we love them?
So, I’m wondering. What do you all think? Should write what you know be taken to mean just factual knowledge, or is there more to it than that?
Note: I got the title of this post from a t-shirt my husband has. It’s my favorite. :) I'm thinking about making a badge...