Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Write what you know

Next to the reminder to 'show' rather than 'tell', it's probably the phrase that I've read most often in how-to books and on websites. I don't think there can be any question that writing about the subjects and situations you are familiar with enables your pen to move far more smoothly across the page - I can say that is certainly the case in journalism as well - but I was wondering how you get to this stage of comfort when you're writing for the historical or supernatural genres, for example?

Is it simply down to including a level of detail that leaves a reader in no doubt that you clearly know your subject matter inside out? Or is it all about your own level of confidence? After all, with situations that we're familiar with, we tend to know when less is more... Does the same apply here?

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts and opinions!



  1. Hello (waves) - am I the first to blog on your new blogsite? (Love the title BTW). Got the link from NV. Good luck - Caroline x

  2. This is an awesome idea. Also got the link from the NV website!

    Regarding my thoughts, can I say I don't know? :) I'm not sure whether I think you have to have lived something to Know it. With my main fiction favorite focused on the paranormal/sci-fi/otherworldly bent, I think if you spend enough time in your head in the world you've built, whatever the laws and theme of that world is, you'll know it.

    Maybe the devil is in the details in this regard, in the mundane, in the real-life bits that you can't simply make up to suit you (as you can in your imagined world).

    Good question though, definite food for thought.

  3. Waves from me too! Also got the link from the NV web site. I'll be following along regularly.

    Nadia what is the title and category of your entry? I haven't had a lot of time to read many so far so would love to pop back and read it.

    I entered quite late so only got two comments.

    Chris (Courtney Cole)

  4. Christine: If you go to the comment where you read this link, and click on Nadia's name, it'll take you to her page where you can jump to a link of her story.

  5. Hi Caroline!
    Thank you for posting - I had that sudden sinking feeling after I set this up that no one would be interested and I would be exposed as Billy No Mates in Cyberspace!!! LOL.
    Best regs, Nadia

  6. Hi Nadia, yes I came through NV too. I was hoping to find a group where I could chat about writing so I'm keen to join in! My entry was paranormal and I come from a background of sci fi and fantasy. I agree less is more with show not tell and I try to weave background and details in subtly (not sure if it works though!) I'm not great with description anyway, I tend to prefer dialogue and inner musing! Good to meet you guys, I'm off to read your entries now!

  7. Nadia,

    Found your chapter and left a comment. Really liked it a lot and want to read more. I liked your character's and your descriptions were great. Good luck with it.


    PS Thanks, Amalie.

  8. Hi Amalie,
    Don’t know works for me! Having read some of the historical entries and comments on the NV site, I can see that a lot of people know their favoured era inside out, but I still suspect that having that knowledge is no guarantee that you’ll feel comfortable writing about it.

    My own personal feeling is that it’s a combination of the two: once you have the knowledge, your mind somehow switches to a more relaxed mode – enabling you to simply cherry-pick relevant items from this historical or virtual world as you see fit. Which in turns helps it come across in a much stronger way. I think you’re right about spending enough time in your world that you eventually know it – by its very nature, such a detailed degree of invention must lead your brain to eventually think it’s an authority anyway!

  9. Hi Nadia,

    Huge step starting a blog, isn't it!.

    I started mine last year, the first in a long line of failed participants of the 2009 M&B NV contest. That one was not as open as this years contest, hence some of us posted our failed chapters online for public scrutiny!!! Needless to say, allowing anonymous comments drew forth some that were kind of cruel and unnecessary.

    But, that said, to succeed in the world of publishing the first thing to acquire is thick skin and to let the knocks roll off like water!

    I feel the best thing I ever did was setting up my blog. I've met some incredible writers worldwide besides the writing groups I belong to, and found likeminded friends keen to expand their horizons. Between us all we have riotous fun with blogfests and online get-togethers, so please feel free to join in the fun.


  10. Hi Chris,
    Thanks for your post - and welcome!!! Also many thanks for leaving a comment on 'Love on the dotted line...' I'll off there now to read it!!! This was my first attempt at a romance and I really enjoyed it so am planning to keep going with the story. I'll have a read of yours too. :o)

  11. Thanks for your lovely comments, Faye – I’m going to go and check your chapter out now!

  12. Hi Nadia,

    You're very welcome. I meant every word. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I have a soft spot for Jack Russel's :-) My parents lost one last week sadly, but have a new 10 week old addition to help ease the pain.

    I am trying to toughen up by putting my work out there, so any comments good or bad will be greatly appreciated.

  13. Hi Francine,
    Yes - it feels like a huge step now that I have some real participants!!! I'm loving it though... I'll definitely check out your blog too as I'm new to all this. My sincere wish is that 'constructive' criticism becomes the thing here... I've got quite a thick skin when it comes to the often brutal editing that is a fact of life when it comes to filling a magazine or newspaper - or when someone feels the need to massage their ego - but fiction feels a lot more personal, so I would hate to think that anyone posting here would get trampled on.

  14. Hi Christine, have just left a comment :)

    Amalie, what's your entry called? Can't find you!

    Can I suggest that if we post here we leave our story name? (Mine's Midnight Shaman Wanton Witch, although I think I might change it when I submit it. )

  15. Nadia, Hope you don't mind my replying to Faye on your blog. Don't intend to hijack it :-)

    Faye, Thanks so much for your comment on my NV entry. Yes I do tend to head hop a lot. Did you get confused as to who was saying what or who was thinking what? I've read that it's OK to change POV as long as you show who's POV you're in. Still a lot to learn here :-)

    I'm working on chp 2 but not sure about how much further I'll go with it.

    Will pop over and have a read of yours too.

    Thanks again.

  16. Hi Christine

    No I didn't get confused, you made it quite clear, I just thought it was the done thing to stay in one pov unless you mark a section break. What does everyone else think? I liked your story though. I'd always be happy to read more if you'd like an opinion.

    BTW what's everyone's opinion on whether to finish a book after you've sent off a partial and synopsis? I've written a few books that haven't been published (not M&B) and thought I'd wait and see if I have any success before writing the whole thing to Midnight. But is that a mistake? Anyone got any advice?

  17. Hi everyone!
    I'm more than happy to host discussions on the NV entries - I've set up a separate post though so that everything's in the right place...
    Best regards, Nadia

  18. Hi,

    Re separate post for NV entries!
    It's possible on blogspot to post a set-aside page with comments. That way a specific TITLE will not disappear into the blog archives. To keep it in prime position it can be posted directly below followers.

    If you're not sure how it works: go to New Post, look at the toolbar and select New Page and then option for comments. When posted as a page go to design and you'll see how to move it around: drag 'n' drop up and down.

    BTW, I posted my entry up at the last minute on the M&B site: "Unbidden Billionaire Legacy".


  19. Hi Nadia, I found your blog through NV, too. I have been so impressed with the writing and hope to see a number of folks that did not place in the top 10 go ahead and submit, too.

    I commented on my take with head hopping over in the NV comments and suggestions.

    I spent August doing the medical fast track, so I sat NV out to catch my breath and work on something new for the editors.

  20. Mine entry is a paranormal as well: Unlikely Aphrodite. This was the first contest I had ever participated in, and boy oh boy was it nerve wracking. Both in a good way and in a *barf* way. I keep telling myself that next year I will be published and that will keep me from feeling compelled to enter!

    I also participated in the August Fast track for medicals. Since we were allowed to sub unfinished MS for that, I am busily writing mine. They asked for a full, which is why I subbed under my real name on the NV thing. Figured: a) they know that name, b) it was all contract and legaly so real name seemed right.

    If you ladies have never stopped by, there is a writing forum where folks also share plenty of tips and support! I'll keep sticking around here too (as long as I don't get distracted by something shiny. That happens sometimes...)

  21. I keep posting and then thinking of something else to say! Will try to read chapters tomorrow! I took off like... three weeks on the medical ms and I'm afraid of not getting it finished now that they have shown at least an eagerness to read the rest. Scary, in a really good way.

  22. Thanks Francine - I'll do that - thanks for the tip. :o) I'll check out your chapter today too!

  23. Amalie: That's fantastic news about your MS - good luck with it all! I hope you don't encounter anything shiny enough to keep you away from this site though. :o)

  24. Hi Christine,
    Sorry to hear about your parents' pooch - they really become a part of the family, don't they... Milo is based on my friend's dog Hetty. I thought a dog would be the perfect way to keep Susie in that field. I love having an imaginary world to play with, don't you?!!!