The saying I always hear people repeat – “Write what you know” – is tedious.
What if I don’t want to write what I know? It’s boring. After all, we are lovers of the art of fiction. We do not want to sit around and write essays. Even diaries are often only compelling when they belong to the little imaginary people that reside in our heads.
Still, the idea that you need to write what you know, because otherwise your writing will not be plausible, is haunting.
Everyone is different. The idea that if everyone just wrote about themselves we would all have an eclectic range of brilliant writing, is a little ridiculous.
There is the fear that if we attempt to write about something we do not have a personal experience with, our writing will be shallow. We will not be able to do justice to the emotions and situations of our characters and we will be judged by those who understand the details of what we are trying to write better than we do.
What I believe is shallow is restricting your writing potential and your imagination. Everyone is different, so while you want your character to be relatable and plausible, if they are not a specific historical character, they have their right to be an individual. You don’t need to shape them into what you suppose it would be like for every were-llama out there or what a specific genius would think if he stumbled upon your story.
While I can understand and even share in the paranoia that because you are unlike your main character you will fail in some way, it seems to me that the only alternative is the self-insert, which I find far more intimidating.
There are plenty of novels where you can tell that the protagonist is just the author, inserting themselves into the story. Sometimes the book is amazing and even though it is quite obvious that the author is just writing about himself, you don’t care because it’s an awesome book. Other times it is just awkward and more than a little indulgent. There are just some things you don’t want to know about the author, let alone read about explicitly.
Being credible is boring. Perhaps there are some people out there who are so interesting that they can fuel a novel with just their personality and experiences on the page but I think that a person’s imaginative reach is a huge part of who they are and what they can do.
Don’t stunt your capabilities because you are worried that you will get something wrong. Don’t be afraid to try and write new and interesting characters unlike yourself because you think you might offend someone. Think outside the box and write outside it too.
When the movie ‘Planet 51’ came out, some people found it odd that they would get Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to voice a white astronaut. What I found odd was that none of these same people had a problem with any of the white actors voicing the green aliens…
Don’t write what you know. Write what you are passionate about and what interests you. Give voice to a character and a story far outside your own reality. Otherwise, you’re just going to be left with something resembling the angst-ridden pages of your teenage diary. Trust me – no one wants to read that.