Write What You Know

Mark Twain said to write what we know. But how do we write what we know if we've never known a Time Lord? Step inside my Tardis and see.

 

AN AMERICAN TRADITION

 

It was Mark Twain who said to "Write What You Know." And, since he's an American icon, every English teacher has quoted him to every student in every school in every generation since that time. I must have heard it a dozen times growing up - from middle school all the way through college.

 

"Write what you know."

 

WRITERS WRITE ABOUT WHAT THEY DON'T KNOW

 

Let's face it, if we were to write what we know, the majority of our stories would involve unemployment, sexual rejection and living in our parent's basement. LOL

 

I'm kidding.

 

Not really.

 

But, the truth is, writers write about a lot of things - shoot outs, car chases, monsters, natural disasters, space travel, etc. Things neither they nor their readers ever experience. So, obviously, that piece of advice ("Write what you know") doesn't apply to these sort of things, because very few people have ever experienced them.

 

So, how do we write what we know when it concerns things we don't know anything about?

 

WE CONNECT OVER THE THINGS WE DO KNOW

 

Here's another reality. Readers love to read about things they don't get to experience in real life. Because they crave something different. Something unusual. Something fun. But, they still need to emotionally connect with the story.

 

And, since it's impossible to emotionally connect with shoot outs, car chases, monsters and natural disasters, the reader needs something (or rather, someone) to connect with.

 

This is where "what we know" comes in.

 

Where human beings connect is in their emotions. Not in their thoughts or their beliefs or their national heritage. No. The're's only one thing that crosses gender, age, skin color, religion, culture or political persuasion and that's emotions.

 

Every human being on earth has experienced fear. All of us have, at one time or another, experienced love, followed almost immediately by heartbreak. We all know pain and loneliness. We've all suffered loss. Everyone knows what it feels like to be angry, even furious and some of us have been so mad we've actually entertained thoughts of murder.

 

So, if you want your reader to really connect with your story, imbue it with emotion.

 

FOCUS ON THE EMOTION

 

So, when you're writing that action scene, imbue it with emotion. In other words, don't just show what the character does -- show us what they feel as they go through it.

 

We get that a massive tidal wave is destroying the coastline city and millions of people are dying. That's the action. But, we won't connect with it until you imbue it with emotion. Show us what the characters feel about the event.

 

We get that there's a gun pointed at the character's face. We've seen it in a million movies. But, what we haven't seen is how it feels. Share with the reader what the character feels about having a gun in their face and that experience will be burned into the reader's mind forever.

 

Whatever scene, dialogue, disaster or event your writing... dig deep and draw out the emotion. Show us what the character feels as they go through it. That's how you connect them to the story.

 

WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW

 

You know what  painfearanger and lust feel like. You've experienced every imaginable emotion at one time or another in your life. You know the weight of terror, panic and stress. You've enjoyed the thrill of surprise, joy and love. But you've also known the burden of shame and sadness.

 

Draw on these emotions. You know what they feel like. Share them with your reader... because, guess what? They know what they feel like, too. And, if you can connect with your reader on that level... they will introduce you to others.

 

People want to connect.

 

So, connect with them.

 

By writing about what you know best -- you're feelings.

 

 

 

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