Monday, January 12, 2015

5 Tips to Writing What you Know

In the past I’ve talked about the importance of doing research for your writing, but there is also something to be said about writing what you know. As a former broadcast journalist and someone who has worked in public relations and media relations, I’ve often used those careers in my books. Using your career is a good way to bring realism to your books, but what if you’ve never been a police officer, or doctor or even a medical technician. That’s where the research comes in handy.

 But you can also use the many things you already know that aren’t connected with any profession. There are plenty of areas where you can use your own personal expertise that others might not have. Often you may not realize how much you actually know about other subjects that you can use in your books.  You may not think of the simple things you know that could actually be important or fun subjects to write about.

1.       Remember time and places you know. 

These elements can play a big role in your setting.  When is your story being set? In today’s world?  In a city? In a small town?  Even if you live in a big city now, what about the atmosphere of the small town you grew up in?  I channeled some of those younger memories as I wrote my Dead Man series and used some of the things I remembered in Dead man’s Rules. Every time I go back to New Mexico I take some time just soaking up the sights, the smells and the sounds from the towns to the mountains.
I used my small town past as well. There was the local café where we often had lunch and where my sister worked. I remembered that atmosphere as I brought the Matador café in my book to life. Right now I’m part of a Facebook group – one of those “You know you’re from…” groups and in addition to re-connecting with old friends we’ve also spent some time reminiscing about the old days and it’s helped me think of new subjects I can write about.
2.      Consider your hobbies.

Do you knit, sew, rock climb, hike or ski? What about bowling or reading groups you may belong to? All the intricate knowledge you get about those subjects can be wonderful writing fodder. If you are writing a mystery novel, why not try the idea of a cozy based around crafting. Those sort of books can be very popular with a certain audience. You can base the murder around your knitting circle. Perhaps the relative of one of the members is killed and she is a suspect. The same can hold true for someone in a reading group.  What about a romance novel where the new entry into a book club is someone who drives the heroine crazy, both in reading opinions and personally? Or how about a fantasy where the reading group is reading a vampire book and a real one shows up?

3.      Vacation visits

Don’t let that vacation go to waste, either when camping in the mountains or visiting Hawaii. Consider setting a story in Washington D.C. if you find yourself spending time in the nation’s capital.  Your protagonist doesn’t need to live there necessarily, but perhaps be visiting there. That can give you a perspective to draw on as a tourist.  Are you frightened by everyone rushing by you because you come from a small town where all the people you see you might know? Or is it invigorating but then you discover some dark secrets about a politician from back home?
I took my first train trip in years last fall  and I paid special attention to the atmosphere aboard the train as well as paying attention to the scenery. I know there's a story there I want to work on!

4.      A walk in the park/anywhere

I’ve written about this before. When you take that daily walk in the park or a short hike, wherever you go, don’t just run for exercise.  Spend a few minutes paying attention to the atmosphere around you.  Think of what you are seeing as you run. Pay attention to the people on the street or that you run into in the park.  Are there people you could set your watch by? What if one day they don’t show up?  When I walked regularly I always ran into the same man and I could hear him coming up behind me because he had his audio turned up so loud I could hear him coming even though he wore ear plugs. We’d nod and say hello every day but that was our only acknowledgement. But we always ran into each other around the same time and location. I can still describe him. I can say what he would be wearing in the winter and summer.  Sometime I might still use a person like him in a book.  I used to always notice the differences in smells, temperatures and feel of the mountains as opposed to when walking in the city.  Remembering those types of things can come in handy when trying to make a setting realistic.

5.      Visiting

Do you remember what it was like when you visited your grandmother? Do you recall the scents in the air, like cookies or baking bread? My grandmother lived in a very old fashioned house and they still had a wood burning stove. I can still remember that smell and strangely enough a few years ago when I was visiting a small New Mexico town I came out of my hotel room in the morning and I smelled the scent of wood burning. It not only took me back to my visits with her, but it came in handy when I was trying to show what some of the scents might be in a small town atmosphere when it gets cold and people still wood in stoves.  I always pay attention to those type of unique details when I visit some place new, whether it be a house, a shopping mall in a different part of the country or drive through a new area.

Being aware of surroundings and some of the simplest things around you can be great resources for your writing.

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