History That Never Was

Home of Dawn Vogel: Writer, Historian, Geek

Writing with A Kernel of What You Know

books on a shelfThere’s a lot of advice for writers that says “write what you know.” For speculative fiction authors, that can be difficult–few of us have ever fought a dragon, piloted a spaceship, or escaped from certain doom at the hands of a horrific monster. (Your mileage may vary. I never have.)

I think that perhaps the better way of putting this is “write with a kernel of what you know.” You don’t need to have encyclopedic knowledge of the topic at hand, but if you can base even a portion of your story in something you do know about, it can be all the richer for it.

In my latest novella,¬†Cross and Circle, I wrote about a comparative religions professor who is a pregnant Hispanic lesbian. None of that comes from my own experiences. But she’s also a researcher, and that’s something I do know a bit about, since I’m trained as a historian. So when Evie and Taylor are digging through old records to try to learn more about the mysterious cult that has an interest in Evie’s unborn child, that’s when I’m in my element. I’ve been there, digging through books or newspapers looking for the tiniest scrap of a clue that will get me to the next step in learning about some topic.

For the¬†parts that you don’t know, that you might not be able to experience, that’s where research comes in. Not the kind of research that I’m talking about in the previous paragraph, but the kind of research where I found a description of what contractions feel like, for example.

So if there’s something you’ve got a lot of knowledge about, put that into a story that you want to write. Having those solid details will help lend realism to your story, even if it is about piloting a spaceship into a horrific dragon. Or something.

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