Saturday, 6 September 2008
Write What You Know? - Sally Nicholls
Write what you know is another one of those creative writing 'rules' everyone debates. Are you only allowed to write about plumbers if you are one? What about if you want to write about aliens? Or vikings? Or elves?
It's true that books about plumbers written by plumbers have an air of verisimilitude that's hard to fake. But if you're a plumber who hates plumbing and loves reading about racehorses, you're going to write a much better book about racehorses than you are about plumbing, because enthusiasm and interest are catching. If you're interested in a subject, then your readers will be too.
If you're interested in Vikings, write about Vikings. It might take a bit of research, but at least it'll be interesting research. And if you have an emotional connection to something, it's much easier to imagine what it feels like to be that character. I've never had a terminal illness, but I've had similar enough experiences to be able to imagine what it might feel like, with research of course. I've never been a serial killer, either, and I can't really imagine why anyone would want to be, so I suspect any book about serial killers that I wrote would be a bit unbelievable.
The best books have a bit of yourself in them. I had great difficulty imagining what it was like to be an eleven-year-old boy in 'Ways to Live Forever'. But I had no difficulty imagining why he'd want to run up down escalators.
And I had great fun doing the research.