Tag Archives: knowledge

Authors Answer 123 – Should You Write What You Know?

Authors seem intelligent, right? They probably know a lot of things. But are they experts on what they write? What happens if an author writes about something they know nothing of? Should authors write only about what they know?

Question 123 – Write what you know. Do you agree or disagree, and why?

Elizabeth Rhodes

Absolutely not. If every writer followed this rule, there’d be no such thing as fantasy, horror, or science fiction. We don’t “know” these things because they aren’t a part of our everyday lives, and yet authors churn out books about magic, robots, interstellar travel, or zombies all the time. By all means research what you’re planning to write, but to say you have to experience things in order to write about them is absurd.

Paul B. Spence

Know? Understand? Have experienced? I have never experienced a space battle, outside of dreams/nightmares. So how could I ever write about it if I followed this rule? I incorporate more of my real experiences into my writing than people would believe anyway.

H. Anthe Davis

Seeing as I write fantasy, sci-fi and horror, none of which I have actually experienced, I would have to mostly disagree.  While it’s great to speak from the heart (and essential in some genres/stories, where you’re trying to speak for someone with a specific experience and the text would be harmed if you didn’t have a real knowledge of that experience), research and imagination can fill in a lot of space.  If you doubt your take on an experience, you can always seek out people who embody it or have actually had it; it’s always good to pass your work through a variety of hands to get a variety of opinions anyway.

Cyrus Keith

Dis…agree. Write what you want to write. If you don’t know it, find out. So I guess really, it’s not “write what you know,” It’s “Know what you write.” I knew nothing about antimatter before I wrote Becoming NADIA. But I researched it. I have an historical novel set in Roman times warming up on the back burner. I REALLY didn’t know some of the awesome things the Romans did, or how their legions were actually organized. I guess I agree, only on the premise that even if you find out five minutes before you actually put the words on the screen/paper, it counts as knowing. The bottom line is, you want readers to be able to live easily in your world. Make it easy by making it believable. Make it believable by doing some research on the world/science/culture. If you write about any real cultures, at least do them the courtesy of getting to know them. If you’re making up a culture, have a culture to know. 90% of them will never be seen by the readers. But if they are there, they make your world more real. So write about what you know, but don’t be afraid to know more than you do. Don’t let yourself stagnate by thinking you have to be an expert with a doctorate and 20 years’ experience before you write about it.

D. T. Nova

I agree with some interpretations of that advice, but not others. You certainly don’t need to have actual experience with what you write about, and in some genres of fiction it’s less applicable than others.

Eric Wood

I definitely agree. If you know the material it will show in your writing. The best example I have of this is when I answer my kids question in my Friday posts. The better I know the answer the better I can explain it. Most times I need learn it (aka Google it) before I can start writing about it because I don’t understand it. So if you know what you write your writing will easily understood. Like Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

Beth Aman

Again, somewhat agree?  Depends on what this means.  Yes, draw from your experiences and your life as you write, but also use your imagination.  Use empathy, step into another person’s shoes.  Also, don’t be afraid to talk to other people and draw from their experiences as you write.  In terms of “what you know” of the plot: write the parts of the story that you already know are going to happen.  If you’re struggling to write chapter 1 but you have a perfect vision for chapter 3, then write chapter 3.  Write what you can, always.

C E Aylett

I do agree, but in the sense that if you want to write about something you know nothing about, then do the research. Once you are familiar with what or whom you will write about it’s much easier and will seem authentic to the reader. I’ve written many stories in areas I knew nothing about and managed to pull off the authenticity because I thoroughly researched my subject and characters. That’s the job of a writer. But if authors only wrote what they know (as in, only from your direct experiences) then there would be a lot of good fiction not in existence — books involving murders and magic for starters. I think half the fun of a book is the author discovering the unexpected as much as the reader. That kind of spark seamlessly carries over from one party to the other and stops it from becoming dull.

Jean Davis

Agree. Not to say researching what you don’t know is also valid, but using what you do know as a foundation to build from makes a story more believable and more enjoyable to write.

Gregory S. Close

Sure, write what you know.  But if you don’t know, learn it and write about that too.  Writing fiction is about imagination as well as craft, so I don’t believe you should limit yourself to only what you know and are comfortable with. I think inserting what you know into stuff you don’t is a neat trick, though, and it can add a nice nuance when the truth of your experience peeks through without strangling the spirit of your narrative.

Tracey Lynn Tobin

Yes, and no. I agree in the sense that it is significantly easier to write about what you know, and there is much, much less chance that you’ll make glaring errors that annoy readers. For instance, I do my best to avoid my characters using guns, because I know absolutely nothing about them, and I don’t want to screw up the terminology or imply that a particular gun can do something it doesn’t (say, a character changes the magazine in a gun that takes individual bullets), because that can really turn a reader off if they know the difference.

That said, I definitely think that we should push our limits, do our research, and take chances. If we always stick stubbornly to only what we know, we’ll never learn, and our writing will get stale and boring.

Jay Dee Archer

I agree, mostly. I say mostly because knowledge can be gained. If an author doesn’t know something, they do research. After research, then they know the subject and can write about it in a more accurate manner. But there are things that authors write that simply don’t exist. Take fantasy, for example. Much of what’s in fantasy is completely made up. I guess the author is the most knowledgeable person about that fantasy world, though. They invented it. If I don’t know something, I research it. I find it to be a very interesting part of writing.

How about you?

Do you think authors should know what they write? Let us know in the comments section below.

Authors Answer 106 – What Authors Learn

Authors do a lot of research. They need to learn a lot of things when they’re writing about something that they don’t know a lot about. However, authors don’t just learn from research. They can learn from experience and it’s not always about any subject. It could be about themselves or their craft.

320px-Modern-ftn-pen-cursiveQuestion 106 – What are some of the most interesting things you’ve learned while writing, whether from experience or research?

Elizabeth Rhodes

For Jasper I looked up the culture and citizen mentality of North Korea. It may seem a little far-fetched to apply a foreign country’s ideals to an American city, but I wanted to get a feel for that kind of regime. I found someone’s travel journal from when they were a tourist in North Korea, and found it fascinating. I hesitate to compare the experience to a comedy film like The Interview, but the scenes that showed their tourism industry being a complete façade definitely rang true.

Cyrus Keith

Without resorting to the “I’ve suffered for my craft; now it’s your turn” school of thought, I must say Some of the most interesting things I’ve learned had to do with matter-to-energy conversion in relation to Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and the practical application of the formula E=MC2.

I can already see some of y’all’s eyes misting over, so I’ll spare the deep details. But suffice to say, it has to do with the conversion of matter to its basic form of energy, and the release of that energy in the form of heat and radiation.

On another note, I found out much about the structure of a Roman-ear legion, the weapons and tactics of its time, and the general culture of authority of the time. That, of course was for another book, which to be honest has to be started over.

Gregory S. Close

I’ve learned a lot through research for writing.  One thing in particular that I enjoyed researching is the origin and history of insults from different cultures.  I’d never really thought too deeply about it before, but it is interesting to note that you can reverse engineer the things that are most sacred in a culture by the very nature of things that are considered insulting.

Linda G. Hill

One of the most fun things I’ve ever done while researching was going to the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and wandering around backstage. One of my upcoming books has a scene there: it’s a book about a stage magician, so the backstage part was important. I got to talk to stagehands about the logistics of having animals on stage, I had the opportunity to speak to the people who build sets, and I got to stand on the stage and look out at all the seats with the spotlights on. I wrote a post about it with pictures, if you’re interested.

C E Aylett

That salt water crocodiles are one of the most aggressive beasts on the planet and do some crazy stunts to protect their territories, and yet as mothers they are highly protective, staying with their young as oppose to laying eggs and then leaving them to fend for themselves, as other reptiles do. Salties are mega cool and I have a massive amount of respect for them. But I wouldn’t want one as a pet.

The most eye-opening subject I ever learned about for a story is being transgender. It’s not about sexuality so much as being about sexual identity. And in researching that subject I realised how clueless I – as a hetero female — was (still am, really) and everyone else who hasn’t experienced gender identity issues. Most heterosexuals don’t understand the difference between the two and yet they are the ones making all the decisions that affect this minority the most. It’s quite heartbreaking to know people feel that trapped.

Paul B. Spence

I think the most interesting thing for me was an understanding of my technique and style. I am often surprised by the where the stories end up going, but it all seems to make sense in the end.

D. T. Nova

The history of the Knights Templar is pretty interesting.

A lot of folklore involving stars and constellations, including the story behind Tanabata.

I learned about hihi’irokane, a pseudohistorical metal similar to orichalcum

Also, I care a lot more about hairstyles than I ever thought I did.

Eric Wood

While I have haven’t been published yet, I do write a regular feature on my blog called “Go Ask Your Father”. It’s one of my favorites to write on my blog. It’s the day I answer four questions of the millions my two boys ask. I’ve lost count how long I’ve been writing this feature so I’ve also lost count how many questions I’ve answered. I’ve learned about dinosaurs and plate tectonics. I’ve learned about 4 stroke lawnmower engines and twisted inclined planes.

H. Anthe Davis

I have a culture that lives just below the treeline in an area similar to the Khumbu region of Nepal — where Mt. Everest is located.  It’s been interesting to research the area and the effects such high altitudes have on people, animals and plant life, as well as the effort it takes to surmount such high peaks when you have to pass into the ‘death zone’ (area where there’s not enough oxygen to support human life) for a certain amount of time.  Physiological effects, acclimatization, genetic quirks that allow some people to adapt better, and all the well-recorded attempts at the Everest summit (some of them successes, some of them disasters) — these are all really interesting to me, and I learned some surprising things, like how two men once climbed the north face of the mountain in 37 hours, mostly at night, carrying nearly no gear and no oxygen back in 1986.  Crazy Swiss!

Tracey Lynn Tobin

Most of the things that I’ve learned through research are not the kinds of things that are to be discussed in polite company. For instance, I’ve looked up the steps of decomposition of a human body, how body temperature changes after death, how little impact it could take to kill someone, and so on. I’m pretty sure writing “Nowhere to Hide” put me on numerous government watch lists.

As for experience, this is totally random, and I don’t know if it’s really interesting to anyone besides me, but I’ve learned that a heck of a lot of people would love to see themselves written into a zombie novel, even if it’s just to be killed.

Jean Davis

Beyond the usual dead body facts, and a few medical procedures, I learned several ways to deep space travel while researching a novel that turned out to be absolutely awful, but the research was interesting and played a integral role in the plot.

Beth Aman

1) How fragile swords are.  Like, you would never practice swordplay with real metal swords, hitting them off each other, because you’d destroy them.  If you’re practicing, you’d use wooden swords.

2) If someone gets shot with an arrow, don’t break off the shaft.  Leave it in place until you’re ready to pull dig out the arrowhead, too.

Jay Dee Archer

Some of the research I’ve done for Ariadne include some scientific principles. Although I have a degree in physics and astronomy, I didn’t know much about EMPs or electromagnetic pulses. I was trying to discover its effect on electronics and whether it affects a human’s nervous system. It was interesting to read about it, though I will need to create a new technology that will do something similar to an EMP for it to do what I want.

How about you?

If you’re an author, what are some of the most interesting things you’ve learned while writing or researching? Let us know in the comments below.

Authors Answer 105 – New Knowledge Wishlist

Welcome to our third year of Authors Answer! This is the first question of the new season, and we’re going strong. Last week’s question had a wonderful response and proved to be a very popular question. It was shared many times on Facebook and Twitter, and I think we have to thank our guest authors for that.

This week, we tackle a topic that makes us wish we had instant knowledge. While writing, we often have to do research. But there are some subjects where we wish we could have more knowledge to aid us in our writing.

320px-Modern-ftn-pen-cursiveQuestion 105 – What subject or topic would you like to improve your knowledge of so you can use it in your writing?

Beth Aman

We writers joke about things that we have to research, and how we hope the FBI never looks at our internet history.  It’s true – I’ve done research on arrow wounds and stab wounds and swords and death.  I’d love to have an extensive knowledge of all of those things – swords, knives, bows, guns, wounds, death, infection, illness, edible plants, hunting, building a fire, etc.  (I write high fantasy and there’s a lot of woodsy and outdoorsy stuff.)

Jean Davis

I’d love to have the brainpower to get more into the science end of sci-fi. I tend to hang out on the softer side but there are times when more a more in depth understanding of the information would could be useful to add more sci to my fi.

Tracey Lynn Tobin

Monsters. Not that I don’t have a fair bit of knowledge in that field already thanks to the types of books/shows/movies I consume, but I could always learn more. My writing genres of preference are horror and fantasy, both of which are much more enjoyable with an interesting, well-written monster, so I’d love to learn everything there is to know about things that roar and shriek and otherwise go bump in the night. Plus, the research is fun. 🙂

H. Anthe Davis

There are lots of topics I actively look up and study in preparation for writing various scenes, but it’s all from an academic standpoint — I don’t plan to go climbing mountains even though I send my characters almost to the death-zone in a few scenes, and I won’t be headed to medical school despite the intense biological focus of some of my characters’ magic, nor will I be planning any real cities or growing any real crops.  It’s always a piecemeal sort of investigation, so I just hope the details mesh well enough for people who understand the topics — that I’m not pulling them out of the story with bad information.  Frankly my answer would have to be EVERY TOPIC!

Eric Wood

I don’t think there’s just one topic. The children’s books I enjoy reading (and now writing) have a touch of truth to them. Chris Hadfield’s “The Darkest Dark” is about a child scared of the dark until he watches the moon landing on TV. He eventually grew up to be a commander on the Space Station just like its author. But I suppose if I had to pick it would be how to write realistic dialog.

D. T. Nova

The local geography of places I’ve never been. The laws of specific places as well.

I also don’t think it’s ever really possible to know so much about physics that knowing more wouldn’t be potentially useful.

Paul B. Spence

Well, I’m always reading the latest in scientific developments. There are some interesting things happening out there.

I would like to read more philosophy, religion (any), and mysticism. I think that the science of the mind and the question of what is consciousness are fascinating.

C E Aylett

Not a topic so much, but more of a skill and that skill would be how to research thoroughly and more efficiently.

Linda G. Hill

It varies in that there’s invariably something I want to know more about, every time I start a new project. What always trips me up is what my characters do for a living. It’s the one thing people in any given profession will read about with a keen eye, and I hate making mistakes!

Gregory S. Close

Right at this moment I would love to download a decade worth of research into Native American history, religion and customs directly into my brain.  I’m daunted by what I don’t know, how much I need to know it for my work in progress, and finally how little time I have to do anything about it.

Jay Dee Archer

There’s something that’s lacking for me. I write both science fiction and fantasy. I’m confident in my ability to navigate through science, geography, politics, and culture. However, the thing that I would love to improve is my knowledge of military and battle tactics and terminology. Both genres I write in often feature battles, both individual and military. I want to know about large scale military battles and strategy, as well as hand to hand combat. I need to know more about weapons, as well. It would be extremely helpful.

How about you?

What would you like to know more about? It doesn’t matter if you’re an author or a reader. Let us know in the comments below.

Should You Write What You Know?

Writers are often told to “write what you know.” If you have knowledge about a subject, then write about it. Experts write about their field of expertise, so if you happen to be a great collector of bottle caps, then write a book about it. But when it comes to fiction, this becomes a bit of an issue.

Let’s assume I will write what I know. In university, I majored in physics and astronomy, which includes fields such as relativity, quantum mechanics, fluid dynamics, radio astronomy, electronics, radiation, lasers, optics, planetary science, thermodynamics, cosmology, and all the really basic physics from Newton, Copernicus, and Galileo. I did not study string theory, as it was still very much in its infancy when I was in university. I also took courses in chemistry, geology, atmospheric sciences, and programming. So, through these, I know how reactions work, how to make batteries, how to make rudimentary explosives, what causes weather phenomena, how volcanoes work, what happens during an earthquake, how plate tectonics happens, the fossil record, and how to make a paint program (although I’ve completely forgotten). I have also taken online courses where I learned things like plant communication and archaeology. I have used many of these when working on Ariadne, as well as worldbuilding.

For Ariadne, I have used geology, numerous aspects of astronomy, atmospheric sciences, and the knowledge I have about evolution and biology through high school, one of my geology courses, and my own personal interest. For the future series about the dying man whose final wish is to explore the solar system, I use my knowledge of the planets, as well as physics involved in spacecraft propulsion, orbital mechanics, and so on. So yes, I am writing what I know.

But you see, that’s not enough. There are many gaps in my knowledge that I need to fill to make my stories more believable and realistic. For Ariadne, I need to research more about spacecraft propulsion systems (though I have a good idea about these anyway), DNA (especially mutations and recessive/dominant genes), urban planning and land use, and religion. To do these, I read a lot. I’ll read books when I can, I’ll search on the internet for scientific papers, and I’ll even use Wikipedia.

Reading books is great. I love doing it. If there are books about DNA, I think they’ll help me with my research on hereditary traits, recessive and dominant genes, and so on. The library is great for this. You don’t have to read the entire book, just the relevant parts. Encyclopedias are good, too.

Searching on the internet for scientific papers is very useful. I only go through official channels for these, so I’m not seeing opinions of the scientifically illiterate. I’m going straight to the legitimate source, the actual scientists that did the research. This can take some time, unfortunately, due to the nature of many papers. They can be utterly dull to search through to find what you want to know. But it has to be done.

However, Wikipedia is often a quick way to do this. I know many people say that Wikipedia is a poor source, but it is actually a very, very good source. The information on it isn’t made up. It’s taken from official sources, verified, double-checked, and scrutinized closely. Everything must be referenced. There must be legitimate sources. Don’t believe Wikipedia? Then follow the references to the original publications. You’ll get your information there.

Writing fiction isn’t all about what you know. You need to expand your horizons. Write about what you don’t know. Learn about it. You’ll become a better writer, and be able to cover many more situations in a believable manner.

What’s your opinion? Do you think we should just write what we know? Or should we research extensively to improve our knowledge and write about many different things? Let me know in the comments below.

Extreme Learning

I hadn’t heard of the term “Extreme Learners” before, and was curious about what it was. There’s a website for it, actually. Extreme learners go beyond the traditional ways of learning. They take charge of how they learn. They even do their own research, book time at labs, create their own curriculum, and do whatever they can to learn. From what I’ve read, they are not geniuses. They are not gifted. They’re just extremely ambitious about learning, and will do whatever they can to learn.

I wondered if I could ever be an extreme learner. I mean, I’m always interested in learning something new. I’ve taken online courses, I’ve been looking at languages a lot recently, and I’m constantly reading up about science. What I haven’t done is gone out and done my own research in the field. I could, though. That might be fun.

But could I be an extreme learner? Perhaps. Do I have the time to do it? I don’t think so. But whenever I have the time, I do my best to learn something new. I guess you could say I’m a student for life. If I could, I’d go back to university and study something new, probably a major in geology and a minor in Japanese. I often think that’s what I should have studied. But who knows? It may be possible.

Would you ever try to be an extreme learner? Do you enjoy learning new things? And would you ever go back to school? Let me know in the comments.

Canada by Geography Now

A year ago, I subscribed to a rather unknown channel called Geography Now. It had a one of a kind premise, to go through every country in the world and talk about the political and physical geography, demographics, and the country’s friends and enemies. Paul Barbato has made them all entertaining and informative, and there are even teachers who are using his videos in classrooms.

Well, the time has finally come. A year after starting with Afghanistan, he has finally arrived at Canada. Check it out.

There are a few spelling mistakes, but he does focus on a few things that I’m sure many people didn’t know.

What did you think of his video?

November, My Rebound Month

For the past two years, November has been one of those remarkably productive months on my blog. Views increase, interaction increases. What is it about November?

I haven’t done the October month in review yet, but will later today. However, one thing I’ve noticed about it is that it’s the worst month this year. Granted, my sister was visiting, and I didn’t do as well in the way of replying to comments or a lot of posts about writing and books. It was dismal, though.

November will be different. Book reviews! There should be three this month. Posts about writing! More specifically, about worldbuilding. Knowledge! Getting back into Quick Facts about moons, and maybe more.

Outside of the blog, I’ll be doing a lot more language studying. I have a plan, and I’m going to use it. I’m also going to interact with other bloggers as much as I can. I’ll aim to visit at least five blogs per day, both ones I regularly read and new ones. I’ll have a lot of videos to edit and post. That should be fun.

It should be a big month, I hope. How’s your November shaping up?