Write What you Don’t Know


I used to work with an engineer; we’ll call her Gertrude for the sake of this post. You never know who’s reading. (I know you’re there, lurkers.) Gertrude was without doubt the most naive of naive people I’d ever met. When I came out to her, after an entirely too long exchange of “nuh-uh’s” and “yeah-huh’s,” Gertrude got really quiet and asked “How do you, erm, I mean, how does that work, exactly?” She even asked me to draw pictures – which were ugly and more a Rorschach test than an amateur Kama Sutra knock-off, and I’m pretty sure I left her more confused and a bit traumatized by the end of it.

Stick with me. I have a point, I promise.

Gertrude was also a writer. In all her ignorance, I’m confident that Gertrude could have written a lesbian sex scene and made it as steamy and salacious as any erotica novelist.

There’s an adage that floats around the writing community that goes, “Write what you know.”

That may be all well and good for non-fiction writers. For fiction? Meh.

Janet Evanovich is not a bounty hunter (that we know of), but that didn’t stop her from writing her Stephanie Plum novels. Anne Rice? Pretty sure she isn’t a vampire. She does book signings by daylight. Christopher Moore – not a vampire, demon, or angel. Chuck Palahniuk isn’t a drag queen or a figment of the imagination of a passive aggressive office peon.

Yet, they were all able to successfully write about it.

Great writers are tireless researchers. With a tool like the internet at your disposal, how could you not be? Gertrude, should she ever decide that she wanted to, could easily access videos, descriptions, fictional examples, and first-hand accounts of two girls doing the nasty in order to accurately describe the way her protagonist, Genevieve, touches her lover’s… you get the point.

Sure, it’s infinitely easier to write about the guy stocking grapefruit at the grocery store or to place your characters in your childhood backyard. But consistent regurgitation of people and places too well known is boring and will stunt your growth.

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5 thoughts on “Write What you Don’t Know

  1. Wow, this is the week for awesome blog posts. Love this, Kat. I like to write sex scenes (as you know) and I find it amusing that "some people" assume that to write this stuff, I MUST have had firsthand experience. Sure, most of it I did, but I tell you, it wasn't as fantastic as I make it in my writing and some of it, well…porn is a great research tool. Just saying. At least for getting the mechanics right. Sticking to what you know right now is so limiting in all areas of writing. I'm a Google freak for a reason. I also ask strangers uncomfortable questions if Google doesn't give me the goods. you'd be surprised how much information you can shock out of someone.

  2. I've always hated that "write what you know" shit. It's absolutely ridiculous. Where would genre fiction be if writers only wrote what they knew? Historical, fantasy, science-fiction… I don't even want to image Horror.

  3. Google, Youtube (and its porny counterpart, RedTube), Wikipedia, your neighbor, writing communities (*cough* On Fiction Writing *cough*)… information is everywhere and there's no reason not to take advantage of it right now. Especially in the wake of SOPA. But that's another post.If nothing else, it's an excuse to watch porn and make people feel uncomfortable.

  4. I do the same thing, about asking people uncomfortable questions. I confess I often get a kick out of it, but hey, I do have a point when I ask a friend about wearing heels and walking in Boston's cobbled streets. Else I would have to try it myself and that looks…painful. I should follow you guys lead and write more sex. That would require lots of imagination on my part. 🙂

  5. Good post, but there's another side to this coin. Some years back it was fashionable to decry fantasy for children, whether (in the case of Britain) 'class' fantasy worlds such as Billy Bunter and stories of posh private schools, or idealised rural escapism. The thinking was that that this was alien to poor urban children who really wanted to read books that reflected their poor urban lives.Bunkum. I was a poor urban child who at every opportunity sought escape in posh schools I knew I'd never go to, or fantasy adventures in wild and exotic places far removed from a Liverpool terrace. As you say, everything is in the imagination and there's not much to imagine in a guy stocking grapefruit – unless it has hallucinagenic properties

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