Saturday, December 24, 2011

"writing what you know" the painless way

We’ve all heard the admonishment “write what you know”. That’s how the best stuff gets written, even in fiction, right? Never mind that inexperienced writers of sci fi and fantasy don’t get much help with applying that decree. My novel is about a guy who starts out in a street gang in Los Angeles then becomes involved with a rock band. I didn’t know facts about those things; I wasn’t even sure I knew much about guys, though that can be a problem no matter how much experience is involved.

I was a little worried about it, but the story was intended to focus on character interaction. The music part was supposed to be in the background. Ha!

A curious thing happened, gradually. I did believe that the better you know your characters, the better your story will be. When you know what really makes them tick, they come alive not just for you but for readers. Writing a convincing gangbanger meant trying to find out what that life was like—in reality, not assumptions.

No, I didn’t prowl the streets. I read. Mind you, I needed info about the lifestyle in a very particular place and time, and I discovered that in fact, not everything is on the internet. A freaking lot of stuff is, but not everything. And people can be willing to tell you that what you’ve written is “off” but not offer to help with facts. So that part is the weaker area of my research. But I haven’t given up.

Sandy is a musician in a major rock band. Okay, specifics on how high-profile, high-income folks live is also a bit of a weak spot, but I was able to find info on the music business. Music has always been the soundtrack to my life and what keeps my heart beating. So I’ve paid attention over the years to interviews. Back when roadies still set up the stage when the audience took their seats, I’d always bring binoculars and study what was happening onstage. During a show, I’d watch performers when the spotlight moved *off* them.

Everyplace I thought I might read, hear or see something interesting, I paid attention, and often picked up a tidbit or two.

Then I realized that I couldn’t keep *everything* about the music business in the background. Neal roadies for Sylvyr Star and that couldn’t be glossed over. People have written books for public consumption about how to be a roadie! I couldn’t function without the internet. Found a documentary that follows Rush’s road crew on tour.

And that’s how writing what I love turned into writing what I know. Find the thing that you can honestly say is your reason for living, and no matter what you have to do to turn it into a book, it won’t be work. Love your subject and you’ll love research. I can prove it J

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