On Tuesday, Ann talked about six techniques you can use to interact with your story without working on your story. Her post inspired me to change my plans for this week and write today’s subject. I’ll come back to finish up my thoughts on antagonists some time in the future.
It’s possible–likely, even–that you possess detailed knowledge about something, be it a hobby, an academic subject, or a specialized (or not) occupation. That is knowledge you can include pretty easily into some stories you might tell. It can even be the background, inspiration, or major element in a story.
Now, before I go much further let me clarify that I’m not advocating the old advice, “Write what you know.” No. I think that is generally terrible advice and instead advocate the “Write what you want to read” approach introduced to me by my friend Sean (who I think heard it elsewhere).
What I am saying is “What you know can inform what you write.” Some extreme examples of what I mean are John Grisham, a lawyer who now writes bestsellers about lawyers doing stuff, or Tess Gerritsen who is a doctor most famous for her mystery novels starring a city medical examiner. You needn’t go quite that far, of course, to find inspiration in what you know, what you’ve done, and what you’ve lived.
Whatever you know, whatever you do (both occupationally and leisurely), you can integrate something from your life into your stories to give them that added touch of realism–or to heighten the drama.
The things you know and do might not be appropriate to all stories, genres, or media, of course, but you can almost certainly pull from your experiences to add gravitas, weight, and depth to your stories.
Let me indulge here in a personal example. Some years ago I worked in the on-call courier business in Portland, Oregon. I have all kinds of stories–vignettes, really–from my five years on a bike, in a car, and behind a desk in the Portland courier biz. For the longest time, I considered that universe–of snarky beer-swilling bike messengers and bitter beer-swilling car couriers–as a background to a movie screenplay, novel, or other long-form narrative. In truth, though, the nature of on-call delivery is more appropriate for episodic narrative. Were I to go back to that time I’d consider turning my experiences–and those of other messengers and couriers in Portland and elsewhere–into a webcomic or other short-form storytelling medium.
Instead of writing about being a courier, though–instead of writing what I know (or knew, really; I imagine much has changed in the past nine years)–I use those experiences to feed into my stories and settings I create today. No, I don’t focus the action around couriers, but over the body of my work it’s hard to not see couriers and messengers sneak in here and there–almost always in important ways. It’s something that is, or was, a significant part of my life, and it’s something I feel comfortable going back to and talking about.
Your own knowledge is probably very different from mine, of course, but my base advice remains the same. You know something you can include in a story. Slip it in when you can!