Write What You Don’t Know

They say to write what you know. But that would be boring … Or as mystery novelist Elizabeth George once put it: “If I wrote only what I knew, my novels would be about an English teacher at El Toro High School.”

I’ve had comments asking how I could write so vividly about being a parent (when I’ve never had children) or what a divorce is like (when I’ve never been divorced). And, of course, I chalk it up to imagination. I have friends with children. I have friends who’ve been divorced — some remarried, and some of those divorced again.

Vanessa thought she knew about divorce, thought she knew what it was, how to handle it, how to deal with it, and what to expect. And it was so far nothing like what she had figured. Nothing. It wasn’t just leaving one building and moving into another. If only it were that easy. But it was much more intricate, like trying to remove the yolk from the white while each half still called itself an egg. It made no sense.

That’s from Confusion, a murder mystery which takes a look at relationships, old and new, and tries to see the good in them as bad things take place. Though I don’t personally know about raising children nor divorce, I learned from those around me who do know.

Sometimes, of course, there’s a situation that requires research. In The Fear of The Dark, I have FBI agents searching for a killer. I’ve never been either an FBI agent nor a killer. So I needed to learn. Learning equals knowledge, and . . . write what you have knowledge about. Write what you know.

This doesn’t mean that if you’re a geologist you shouldn’t write about geology. If that’s where your brains and heart is, go for it. Then we all can learn. But don’t restrict yourself to only what you know. Branch out and add depth to yourself and your story. We’ll all be better off for it.