Friday, August 14, 2009

So What Do I Write About?

"Write what you know" is the advice most often given to beginning writers. If you know about something, how hard is it to put what you know down on paper? Maybe you know more than you think you do ... and again, maybe not.

Nonfiction writers expect to research their subject. Why should fiction writers be any different?
"The devil's in the details. . ." That says to me that if you want something to be credible, whether fiction or nonfiction, you need to be sure of your facts. That means research them, double-check them, and don't expect to slip something by your readers who just may know more than you do about a subject!

Finding Papa's Shining Star just went back to my editor this morning. The conflict between the two lovers is that one knows who he is, and the other just thinks she does. David, raised in a far-from-orthodox Jewish home, returns from World War II after spending a year and a half in Dachau because of his Jewish heritage and the fact that he speaks fluent German. The months spent trying to survive the concentration camp have heightened his awareness that he is a Jew and now feels a responsibility to be part of the new homeland of Israel.

I did a great deal of research to make sure that the historical timeline and references to Shabbat, the Hebrew language, synagogues, and so on were accurate. Still, I knew that my protestant interpretation of what I read could lead to problems. Fortunately, I found a fellow author who could answer my questions about some of the details I wasn't convinced were 100% accurate. I researched--and then I double-checked.

To me, it's about respect for my subject and my readers. Credibility is everything. I've "tuned out" on books where I've found misstatements.

Bottom line: when writing what you know, be sure you know what you write!


nlindabrit said...

That is excellent advice! Nothing puts me off something I am reading faster than a glaring error. I remember being urged to read the work of an up and coming young poet and starting a poem of his about Spain. I got to the line:

'Spain! Land of bull fights and blood-red Chianti.'

Of course, Chianti is an Italian wine and I read no further. The writer's ignorance of subject was enough to kill my desire to read his work.

K9friend said...

Very sage advice indeed. Amazing how errors can be missed by so many eyes before reaching publication.

joanna aislinn said...

As a writer of contemporary romance/women's fictions, my own writing journey started with 'what I know' but led me in unfamiliar directions. Being a stickler for authenticity, I spent/spend a lot of time researching careers, conditions and networking with those 'in the know' of what I don't :) It's opened my world and, I hope, makes the situations that tag together into my stories ring true and therefore, that much more relatable!