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Monday, June 25, 2012

Write What You Know vs. Research

Written by Kodi Wolf at 8:50 AM

The old adage "write what you know" is sound advice. When you write about the things you know, all the information you need is conveniently stored in your memory. At worst, you might need to browse through an old photo album or journal for those details that are a little fuzzy, but the experiences and feelings that will help you convey a sense of reality will all be there at your fingertips. You won't need to consult a book and then look for another book to explain what you just read.

On the other hand, if everyone only wrote what they knew, there would be no such categories as science fiction and fantasy, and if you wanted to have any kind of variety of topics or locations in your stories, you would have to go live in those places, go to school and get multiple degrees, or hold a ton of different jobs.

A 50-50 approach works a little better. Basically, write as much as you can from personal experience, and then supplement that with the things you have to research. The trick is to do just enough research so you sound like you know what you're talking about without going off on tangents and wasting time reading about things you don't need to know.

This is where I have problems sometimes. Part of the problem is that I have to be well-read and exposed to a lot of different information to spark new ideas (they don't form in a vacuum). I also love learning new things in general, so it's easy for me to get caught up in reading about a particular subject, long past the point where I'm gaining any data useful for the story I'm working on. The other part of the problem is that sometimes it's hard to know how much I need to know about a subject before I can write authoritatively on it. Sometimes I'm not even sure what the right questions are to ask, so I research in many different areas before drilling down to the right info.

That's what I've been doing for the past couple of weeks (while I take drugs to try to pass another kidney stone; the drugs sort of sap my creativity, but leave me lucid enough to do research). I have several stacks of books from the library and dozens of new links in my bookmarks regarding all the subjects I'm currently researching, which include pregnancy (for New Gaia, The Trine, and The Kindari Saga), farming and how to use and care for various farm animals (for Lights of Life), and genetics (for The Trine and when applicable, Prisoner of War). I've also been watching documentaries on WWII and the Nazis (for The Kindari Saga), which is something I can only take in small bites or I get too depressed about the human capacity for evil.

Since I'm also supposed to be giving my back a rest by not sitting at the computer for hours on end, I haven't typed up my notes yet either, so my Progress Reports pages look woefully neglected.

That's why I wanted to post something here, so you'll know I'm not on vacation or something (that's not for another couple months).

Well, back to work. :)