Monday, November 14, 2011

Writing my world

Not writing makes me twitchy. Especially in the early mornings. I've gotten so into the habit of getting up and getting straight to work, that I'm not sure what else there is to do. But this morning was a lovely, crisp fall morning, so I went for a walk and thought about writing.

I've just finished reading a few somewhat similar books, Holly Black's White Cat and its sequel, Red Glove, and Ally Carter's Heist Society. Both authors must have meticulously researched crime, crime families, and cons.

So on my walk I thought about those books, and what awesome, high-concept premises they had, and how I wished I could write something that fun. And then I thought: Well, why couldn't I?

Obviously not about crime families, Black and Carter seem to have that covered for the moment. But there's nothing to say I couldn't write a fun, high-concept book, nothing to say I couldn't research something really unique and interesting.

Because I'm almost positive Black and Carter do not come from crime families. And look at this bit from Holly Black's acknowledgements: "and [to] my husband, Theo, who not only put up with me during the writing, but also gave me lots of advice about demerits, scams, private school, and how to talk animal shelters out of things."

Isn't that fabulous? That is exactly why I always read books' acknowledgements, all those fascinating little tidbits! Not only is Holly Black probably not from a crime family, it appears she didn't even go to private school. But she knows someone who did.

I think that's the trick. Obviously, we can't only write about what we know forwards and backwards. Otherwise our books would be shallow, one-dimensional. And, just as obviously, we can't write the things we don't know. But I think there's a vast middle ground of things I don't know, but which are part of my world. The things I'm fascinated by, the things my husband knows, my family, my friends, the places I've traveled, the students I've taught. They're things I'd need to research, and I'd need to recruit people to help, but I bet I could pull them off.

And then it occurred to me, I've already done this. A few times. In Project Demo, one of my characters is into car repair. His father is a mechanic. Do I know anything about cars? No. I would be hard pressed to change a tire. But my mother was an engineer for GM until she retired. Plus I listen to Car Talk every week on my walk to get groceries. I used to teach students who studied car repair, and I could get minor jobs done on my car for free (loved that perk!). So even though all those aspects of my life don't add up to being able to change a tire, I imagined a boy who loves and works on cars. I got the sentiment right, and asked my mom (thank you, Mom!) to check the details. And upon reading Project Demo, you might even think I know something about cars. That's the illusion.

And it's those illusions that make books rich and universal.

What have you pretended to know in the course of your writing? Any fun things you'd love to write about?

*The picture is mine, from a walk in Bath*


  1. Beautiful picture! I love writing about things I don't really know much about. It lets me research and learn. I write mostly fantasy and paranormal, so I write a lot of what I don't know. It keeps things interesting and new.

  2. This is why I love research so much -- some times it gets out of hand though.

    That picture looks so relaxing. A long nice walk. :)

  3. Love the picture! Sounds like a lovely walk with lots of writerly musings.

  4. Aw, thanks for all the compliments on the picture everyone.

    Kelly: Yes! That's one of the reasons we read (and write), isn't it? To explore our world. Good to remember that every now and then and not to get too caught up in the things I don't know.

    Karen: hehehe. Yes, it's like you can always do more research, and then a bit more, and a few more books... need to eventually just trust yourself to dive in!

    Elisabeth: It was lovely. Funny how walking and thinking go hand in hand like that.

  5. Car Talk podcasts are an essential part of my fitness regimen, too! More than once I've burst into laughter while walking down an empty street! Once a neighbor caught me and asked, "Car Talk?"

  6. Lovely picture and post.
    When I start writing about sports, I'll know your post truly inspired me. Until then I will most likely only brush on things I don't know from the POV of a character who is an outsider to them. As in "Mom repairs cars, and I can't figure out how she does it."

  7. Anne: Hah! Glad I'm not the only Car Talk listener. As I was typing that, my brain was screaming "Do you REALLY want to admit that in public?!" And yes, totally guilty of giggling to myself as I walk. *sigh*

    Mirka: Thanks! And I do have to admit, the boy in Project Demo is not my POV character. Not sure I would feel comfortable doing that, either. But I do have a great paragraph where he explains the axles, c-clips, and a ring job. ;)

  8. I love Car Talk! Half the time I have no idea what I'm listening to, but it's entertaining just the same.

    One of my 2012 writing goals is to stretch myself further with my characters and their hobbies. I was reading a craft book (Elizabeth George's Write Away) and she discussed writing a a difficult character which I thought "I could never. . ." and then, like you, I stopped myself and asked, "Well why not?"

    The writing might not be worth showing anyone, but I want to at least try to jump out of my comfort zone.

  9. Bridgette: Hah! So glad I'm not the only Car Talk fan out there!

    It's funny (in a sad way), how many of these writing "rules" are self-imposed. We can write whatever we want, really! It's good to remember that and repeat it often, I think.

    Writing the boy in Project Demo was really good for me. I feel like he works, and he's given me the courage to maybe stretch myself a bit more. But it's so nice knowing I have someone to check it over for me.

    Good for you for pushing yourself! I bet you come up with something amazing!


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