Write What You Know

Driving through the fields, that first time, Mr. Business was convinced that the farmers must be asleep.

I’m an Appalachian person; I drop my L’s and add in the occasional R (warshrag!) just for spice. Mr. Business is from the Big City. The first time he’d seen a real farm, up close and personal, was after we’d moved. Which illustrates an important point: people don’t know that what they “know” is wrong until they have some reason to. Most of what we see of farms, farmers, and the people who love them in the movies is presented as a true. In the broader sense, though, we’re all–regardless of origin–just a lot more ignorant than we choose to believe.

Ever seen that meme (I’ll share it on my Facebook page), where someone’s writing about wanting to make their lover feel like a “humid Southern night?” They’re getting really into their description, adding in Spanish moss and who knows what, until someone else comes along and is like “but what about the mosquitoes.” Anyone who’s actually spent any time–and I do mean any time at all–in the South knows that this isn’t romance. It’s a threat.

Likewise, I can always tell when someone’s writing about poor, who hasn’t been poor. They, unfailingly, make the kids more understanding than they are–and the parents a whole lot nicer. Those of us who’ve actually been there know that poverty doesn’t make you a saint. What a person writes will always feel authentic to them, because it’s coming from their experience. Someone who’s never tasted government cheese, regardless of their intentions in portraying a certain situation, is going to have to substitute imagination for knowledge. Which sometimes can work great and other times….

The farmers weren’t asleep. Mr. Business, apparently, had this notion that they’d all be out hoeing their fields. But they’re ranchers, I pointed out. Now that he’s been here a year, he’s getting it. Or starting to. I still have to remind him not to climb on the riding mower at noon in July. And that most businesses, on Sunday, only open between church services.

So don’t tell me about my world, because you think it’s exotic. Location, in my opinion, should never be a plot device. Tell me about your world; help me see what makes your world, whatever world that is, unique and special. Everything you need, to do that, is there. This is why nearly all of Stephen King’s characters are writers who either live in Maine, or someplace fairly similar. And let’s be real, here, his “someplace fairly similar” books aren’t always his strongest. He’s using the insight he’s gained, from his unique set of experiences.

What does he have, then, that the rest of us don’t? Aside from talent, courage. The courage to tell his own story, as opposed to someone else’s. Fiction, to work, has to tell more than one story: the story of your characters, yes, but more importantly the story of you.