Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Write What You Know? Um....no.

By Tracy Kiely

There are certain pieces of advice that have been offered so many times and for so many years, that they are now accepted as fact. Here are a few of my favorites:

"Seize the Moment! Live Each Day as if It Were Your Last!"
- As Thelma Ritter from Rear Window said, this is great advice if you want to “end up fat, broke, and alcoholic.”

"The Only Person You Can Truly Trust Is Yourself!"
- Speaking as someone who really knows me, you can’t go wrong following this. Especially, if you want to get lost or screw up any equation in which math - post-tenth grade math - is involved.

“Don’t Take No For An Answer.”
- Just make sure you have money handy to cover the court costs when you are arrested for harassment, or alternatively, to cover your hospital bills when you are beaten to a pulp.

“Don’t Worry What Other People Think.”
- This is not only excellent advice for any job interview, especially for those in the customer service industry, but just wait until you try it out on your future in-laws!

And lastly, “Write What You Know.”
- This is so true. For instance, I am a stay-at-home mom to three kids, two hyper golden retrievers, and one irritable tabby cat. I drive a stupidly big car that sucks in an inordinate amount of gas and probably kills every tree in a three-mile radius, so I can haul the aforementioned around (well, minus the cat. I don’t have a death wish). I live in a suburb filled with 1970s colonials that are all in various stages of being gutted and remodeled. Every month the ladies in my neighborhood take turns hosting Bunco…and…uh, hello? Hey. HEY! What the hell?  Did you actually fall asleep?
            Sigh. Of course you did. Who the hell wants to read about that? The only mystery in my life is how I manage to lose one sock for every two loads of laundry I do, and why my children can’t put their dishes in the dishwasher – only near the dishwasher. It’s not Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Dishwasher, and even if it were, they’d still lose!!!
Anyway. I digress.
We read mysteries for many different reasons – but for most it allows us to escape into another world; a world of adventure, danger, justice, and fairness. It’s a world where people rarely do laundry, clean toilets, or freak out when they realize that they haven’t gone to the dentist in over two years – they’ve just been to the dentist while escorting their children.*
Now, of course there are those who will say that you need an authentic voice to write well. And they are right – up to a point. For instance, I don’t know much about the average life of an orphan in 1820s Ireland. If I were to write a book from the viewpoint of such a protagonist, it would be utter crap because I have no earthly idea of what life was like then, let alone what it would be like if a serial killer was systematically offing the kitchen staff at the local orphanage. But, there is this thing I heard of that could help me. It’s called research. 
Mysteries are basically stories about people, except there’s usually a dead body (or two) involved. Some of the people in the stories do good things; some of them do bad things. Sometimes there’s a puzzle for the reader, sometimes there’s not. What makes a mystery good – or makes any book good for that matter – is if it’s well written, has believable characters, and tells a story that resonates with the reader**. It’s not as simple as it sounds, but it’s not as hard as it sounds either. Start by writing a story you’d like to read, and you can’t go wrong***.
Now, for your final bit of advice today: Go Out And Face Your Fear!****

*Not all examples may be relatable to your own personal experiences.

**Oh, and if there’s a cat on the cover. That always sells. 

*** Unless you’re intent on writing a book about wealthy, beautiful vampires whose sexual prowess is unmatched and yet are still capable of intensive love. In that case…well, actually – go for it. Hell, you’ll probably have a contract by the year’s end.


****Unless your fear is being covered in spiders. God gave us instinct for a reason. Stay away from the spiders.

3 comments:

Alan Orloff said...

"Pin-the-tail-on-the-dishwasher" Nice! I'll have to try that (along with "pin-the-tail-on-the-clothes hamper" and "pin-the-tail-on-the-refrigerator" and "pin-the-...") It's a lost cause, isn't it?

TracyK said...

Yes. Yes, it is. I've discovered that all of my children are saddled with the dreaded disease, T-Rexitis. It results in their sprouting worthless T-Rex arms when chores are required. It's very limiting, as you can well imagine.

Meredith Cole said...

Hilarious! A great argument for not writing what you know and for writing about what interests you, Tracy.