I am back in London, and thrilled to be here! I can’t believe it’s been a whole year since I was here last because coming off of the plane it felt like coming home.
My sister and mother were commenting on all the little differences and going through a bit of culture shock, though. I hardly noticed these things, but sitting back and reflecting on it there really are a lot of differences between life in the US and life in the UK, and even though I feel comfortable here and don’t even feel any culture shock, if I tried to write a book that took place in London I would undoubtedly make mistakes.
Which brings me to today’s topic: write what you know. So often I see authors write about something in their books that they obviously have no experience with, and it shows. If it’s not something familiar to you, it will be hard to sell it as something familiar to your characters (unless it’s magic, in which case you’re making it all up anyway :P)
This isn’t to say that it’s completely impossible—I’m not a master swordsman and I’ve never killed anyone, but the characters in my book have. But when you do write about something you don’t know, there are a few steps I suggest to follow.
1. Do research. A lot of research. The better prepared and informed you are, the better your writing’s going to be.
2. Immerse yourself in the culture/activity as much as you can. If you’re writing about horseback riding, go horseback riding. If you’re writing about fencing, take a fencing lesson. If your story takes place in New York City, (if possible) go to New York City. Practical, real-life experience will help you more than all the reading and researching in the world ever can.
3. Have a beta reader who IS familiar with it. Make sure that at least one of the people helping you edit your book (preferably more if the thing you’re unfamiliar with is a prominent part of your story) is an expert, or at least well versed, on the subject. I plan on having the stage combat professor at my university look over some of my fight scenes and help me make sure they’re realistic.
4. Read it and re-read it very closely—look for your mistakes. If something sounds wrong, it probably is. But if something doesn’t sound wrong, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right.
5. Don’t be afraid to take criticism. Stories only get better when people critique them, especially if the author isn’t an expert on what they’re writing. However, at the same time, don’t let people walk all over you.
What you write doesn’t have to be completely perfect—as long as it’s believable and you don’t sound like an idiot, you’re probably all right. However, out of respect for those who are from that culture or do participate in that sport/activity/etc, be as informed and prepared as you possibly can to do them justice.
On a side note: why, in movies and TV shows, can they NEVER hire professional musicians? Whenever there’s a band playing for something, they almost always look like idiots because they don’t know what they’re doing. Anyway….
Enjoy the Opening Ceremonies! I know I will J