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Write What You Know

Recently, I had the pleasure of presenting a workshop during the pre-GRL (Gay Rom Lit Retreat) Writers Workshop. I was a bit confused when Ethan Day asked me to present on series/story arcs, kept thinking “wouldn’t this be better presented by an author?” But then I thought about it some more – I do this with my author friends all the time. We work out their stories and what’s going into each book.

While I was brainstorming on the presentation I kept coming back to two core elements that if you didn’t have them your story/series arc didn’t matter – character and setting. But how to intertwine these two elements with arcs?

It’s simple really and ended up being the basis for my presentation – Write what you know! Now I can see the eyes rolling from here as you read that statement. It’s used time and time again and the argument against it is: if you only write what you know then how do authors write about vampires or aliens or pirates or other worlds. There’s no way to know that.

That’s where you’re wrong. When you start out a story, you have either a theme or a character (or two) that have appeared to you. You start taking notes. You interview your characters (at least some do). You do your research on the town/profession/hobby/sexual identity/etc.. You begin to KNOW your characters and story. When you build your world (whether it’s sci-fi or a made up town), you begin to KNOW your world and you’re writing about what you KNOW.

Keeping a story bible for your manuscript is something that can be invaluable to you. A story bible has all the pertinent facts about your characters (height/size/hair color/eye color/family background/hobbies/job/what their apartment looks like) and the ‘world’ you’re building (what’s close to what/who lives where/where is the ‘world’ located/etc.). What you think is a stand-alone short story MIGHT not really be that. How many times have you read a story and thought “what happened to xxx<insert secondary character’s name>?” This is how series are born.

So the next time someone asks you “Why don’t you write about what you know?” Tell them simply – I do.

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