What Do You Write About?

I recently read a blog by an author who was hedging on venturing into the world outside her familiar realm of prose. Write about what she knows…or write about what she doesn’t know. That was her dilemma. She compared it to the deep end of the pool versus the shallow end.

So I pose this question to you…

What makes a better story?

Since I asked, I’ll give you my answer–

I think the better story comes from writing what you’re passionate about, what you love, AND even what you want to know. Sometimes the best stories come from authors writing about what they know. But if that were always the case, we wouldn’t have science fiction, would we?

How many horror writers have actually experienced all that slashing? Most just reached into their soul and conjured something that had excited their imagination.

Nothing is a “cop-out” if your story is good. Whether we intend to or not, we all write about things taken from our own experiences…we just fictionalize them, enhance them, and include them somewhere in our writing. Some story lines come from things we read about or hear about. The rest we just make up and sensationalize.

Fiction writers get to lie for a living. That’s the fun part.

So I say it doesn’t matter if your swim in the shallow end with water-wings on or take a leap from the high-dive into the deep when you can’t swim. If you write a good story, that’s all that matters.

Chuck Barrett

http://chuckbarrettbooks.com

25 Comments

  1. Candida F on November 8, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    Nicely put!
    Its always easier to enhance an experience, mostly it happens in a persons mind, but a sci-fi writer gets to share it with everyone.
    The best stories come from a mix of own experience and loads of research!!
    Like you put it, all that matters is its a good story!!

    Candida F

  2. Chuck Barrett on December 10, 2011 at 10:32 pm

    Good having you on board!

  3. Adnilton Alves on December 14, 2011 at 11:02 am

    What I have just read here on this page, gave me all the answers you need even more to believe in my heart, in my ability to write my feelings that I think are being written exclusively to achieve the target of my heart: the reader! CHUCK BARRETT Dear Friend, thanks for the insight! Thank you for your beautiful words of motivation, which enabled my mind to a new inspiration, a new path and more intensity to get involved in what I write for now on my blog. I would like both to be able to turn it into a printed book, and I think after that I read them here on your page, I will.
    sincerely,
    Adnilton Alves.

    • Chuck Barrett on December 18, 2011 at 3:32 pm

      Whoa! WOW! Thank you for all your kind words and for reading the KILL ZONE. Stay focused and keep writing.

  4. Richard Alan on January 30, 2012 at 6:54 am

    I write fictional novels about people striving to find their life-partner, soul-mate, the person they are meant to be with for life. I am influenced by the wonderful relationship my wife and I have. We blended two families and have always tried to show our three sons what a real partnership looks like. The people in my novels are fictional, but the values are real.

    • Doreen Munoz on February 18, 2012 at 7:31 am

      I loved your message in your comment. I too have a wonderful relationship of over 20 years now. I’m passionate about writing and currently write about fact based subjects in the genre of health. However, I would like to write a novel based on fiction. I know that my heart guides me and that I too will be sending a message in the words even though it will be partly based on imagination. As always Chuck’s post is great. Thank you Chuck for your novels, insight and great wisdom as a writer.

  5. Sharon Y Cobb on February 3, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    I write “faction,” part fiction, part biography based on years as a film writer in Hollywood.

  6. Greever Williams on February 23, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    I use non-fic to write what I know, which while many might find it useful, I honestly find quite boring. Writing “what you know” is very hard for any of us writing in the speculative fiction realm (thus, the word speculative). It seems to me that the key is to keep it real with regards to the elements that readers can relate to. In other words, you can have a spaceship land in the backyard, but you’ve got to be real about how your characters would react to the arrival (which means that they have to behave in a plausible fashion AND that they have to remain true to their character). The hard part (and the part that makes or breaks a story IMHO) is keeping the “real” stuff real. The masters like Stephen King and Michael Crichton can transport a reader to a foreign landscape with fantastic things going on, yet they keep it plausible by hovering over and fleshing out the details that a reader can relate to (such as bits of dialog, setting, etc.) This allows a reader to suspend disbelief of the fantastical elements and accept them as a part of the realism of the story. Personally, I’ve had some great fun researching aspects of my “fantasy” stories to make them more realistic. For example, in my first novel, there is some gunplay. I didn’t know much of anything about handguns going in, so I had the opportunity and go shoot a police standard issue sidearm at a shooting range. I took notes and used the detail to (hopefully) improve my story. I also got a fun little flash (non)fiction piece out of it too. You can read that here if you’re interested. Great post Chuck!

  7. Ashley Zacharias on February 24, 2012 at 2:50 am

    Right on. I’ve never liked the “write what you know” rule. My motto is: “It’s fiction. It doesn’t have to be true. It just has to sound true.” In fact, it only has to sound true enough to allow people to suspend their disbelief. And in some genres, like fantasy, it can sound decidedly untrue.

  8. Guilie on March 19, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    Great post, Chuck–thanks for sharing. The write what you know conundrum has been doing the rounds online for a while, and you’re right: if we limited our writing to “what we know”, i.e., the reality we live in, it wouldn’t really make for passionate stuff. It could–don’t take me wrong–but very few people would be qualified to write about, say, parachute-jumping, while a truly gross percentage of the population would be in a unique position to write about, say, cooking.

    My take on the “write what you know” thing is that it refers to injecting your writing with your own experience, not limiting it with it. It’s about making the writing come alive as you imbue your characters and your settings with all-too-believable details (doesn’t matter if they’re human or Earthly, or totally alien) that make the reader go “whoa”. It’s about staying away from cliches, from formulas; it’s about making the storyworld so compelling the reader is sucked into it, unwillingly even. And that kind of writing only happens when you, indeed, write what you *know*–when you use realistic descriptions, when you study the way light glints off a steel panel in order to describe the steel world of your fantasy, or when you don’t limit yourself to using “psychopathic” to describe your ax murderer, but actually talk to psychiatrists and delve deeper, get a sense for what it would be like to be “psychopathic”, and hone in on the details.

    Thanks for sharing this, Chuck! Always a great reminder 🙂

  9. Sara Daniell on March 31, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    I totally agree with you. I LOVE writing YA Fiction/paranormal romance. We get to live in another world for a while. Writing can be a great stress reducer. I don’t know about other writers, but for me, I love to get lost in another world and leave the troubles of this world behind for a little while. I like writing about things I DON’T have a clue about! It makes me dig deep into my imagination and get lost in the story. LOVE IT!

  10. Miranda Doerfler on April 11, 2012 at 2:04 am

    Great post! I think you’re right; you don’t have to just stick to what you know, you can write about whatever drives you to write. I used to only write cop thrillers and espionage. Then I found horror and fell into it and now, that’s my main genre. I think it’s almost easy to transition to a different genre, as opposed to different lengths of your work. I’m used to short stories, so writing a novella or novel is a challenge for me.

  11. Kerrie Flanagan on April 13, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    Great post. I agree, writers should write about what they know and want to know about.

  12. Teri Heyer on April 21, 2012 at 8:02 pm

    Loved your post. For years I’ve been told, “write what you know.” So I honestly did start out that way. But what fun when I decided to write a paranormal. I didn’t personally know any vampires, witches or dragons. You’re right, write what you’re passionate about. Yes, we get to write lies and others get to read them. What fun!

  13. P.I. Barrington on April 25, 2012 at 2:08 am

    You are spot on about the passion and writing what we care about. A well known script writer told me after I’d revised a draft that my story was getting better because the theme was a better theme and was something I was passionate about. I find that is true every time I write. Sometimes I’m acutely aware of it other times it’s subconscious until someone points it out long after I’ve finished. I’m a big proponent of the subconscious mind at work in fiction.
    Nice post Chuck!

  14. Diane Ramirez on April 25, 2012 at 2:38 am

    I’ve always heard write from you’re passion, write what you know and what you love, but never “what you WANT to know.” That opens the door to allow a larger spere of creative thought where other ideas can cultivate. And it is so true it is all about writing a good story . . . I’m new to fiction writing and am loving the learning process, although it seems a bit overwhelming but it’s the doing it that will get me there. Thanks for the post. Happy writing.

  15. Sheila Jeffries on April 29, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    The power of patient love has been woven into every book I have ever written, even the early horse books and the Cornwall’s Landscape Zodiac books. Now I am weaving spirituality into cross-over fiction as in Solomon’s Tale @matadorbooks, published in late May. Fiction is a great medium for threading strands of gold.
    Thanks for giving us the opporunity to share this.

  16. Lauren Claire on July 6, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    When I clicked on this link, I was hoping it would involve some kind of chat between writers about their work-in-progress or preferred genres. Instead, this blog post turned out so much better than what my hopes would have allowed. Thank you for the reminder to all writers that even the best written prose can fail to connect if the writer does not have passion for their story.

  17. Sydney Avey on August 4, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    Write what you want to know about. I love it! You can’t help but put passion into your story if you passionately want to understand something. I was prompted to write The Sheepwalker because I wanted to figure out what could have possibly motivated my family to keep secrets. I created a fictional family and tossed that grenade into their midst. It kept me writing, because I wanted to know the answer. Thanks for your well written musing on this topic.

  18. Peter Frahm on March 1, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    So we make better stories when we write about what we want to know…. I will have to review some things that I have written and see if that holds true for me. Now you’ve got me thinking. I like that.

    Your conclusion is spot on: Good storytelling is good storytelling regardless of approach.

    Thanks for sharing!

  19. Barbara Thompson on July 2, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    When I first read your question, my thought was, “I write what I observe around me and how little things teach lessons of God’s wisdom.” As I kept reading your article, though, my thoughts seemed to evolve into, “I write what I wonder about.”

  20. Jane Martyn on September 19, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    I like to do both. I’m currently writing a middle grade fantasy adventure series, so obviously everything can’t be from what I know or experienced. But I’ve found including scenes that are somehow directly related to what I know (even if it’s just a character feeling a moment of indecision) really helps me stave off writer’s block. The “what I know” moments are my comfort zone that help me keep my story rolling.

  21. Dean K Miller on January 12, 2014 at 2:50 pm

    Easiest to write about what we know. But it is a great exercise to step outside…maybe even a long ways and see what happens. I wrote a couple shorts in the erotica/lite genre just to see how it would go. Haven’t had my fingers tremble over the keys like that in a long time. And now that it’s done, who knows what will happen. We should always honor ourselves and answer when we ask “What if?”

  22. Nell Rose on June 30, 2014 at 5:37 pm

    I have written quite a few sci fi short stories, and I believe that even though we obviously can’t have experienced it I believe that somehow I feel part of the world I am writing about, our imagination is as powerful as our reality, so in a sense we are writing about what we know. Its good to get away from our comfort zone, and try a few different genre’s, but I believe my writing is best with my experiences, these just flow.

  23. Aziz Hamza on November 9, 2014 at 4:59 am

    I write hestorical fictional novels about ancient regimes societies, specially Roman eras, and thats my passion, believing that anyone can write a good novel as long as he will live every word of it.

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