I Have People

We always hear this: Write what you know.

I say this: Never limit yourself.

I can only speak for myself, but I know a lot about some things, not so much about others. Overall, I know a little about a lot of things. But there are also many things about which I know nothing except that they exist or that people do them or whatever. Then there are those things that I don't have a clue about. Don't know they exist at all. I'm sure there are a ton of those.

Probably we're all pretty much alike in this way.

I write mystery and romantic suspense. There are body counts. I've never killed anyone or watched anyone die. There are male and female points of view. I'm not a man.

You get the idea. For many things, our imaginations are enough. We go online to find bits of information that fill in gaps.

But there comes a time when we need more. How do we find it? We ask. You may get a dozen no's, but then you'll hit the jackpot. You'll find someone who knows someone.

I know this from experience.

Right now there's a scene in the manuscript I'm editing that involves sailing on a Hobie. I know nothing about that. I don't sail, and I've never been on any type of sailboat. I went online and found a lot of information, but what I found didn't really help in my scene.

So I asked around. The most wonderful man is now helping me whip this scene into shape.

Be prepared.

On the first go, I heard things like this doesn't make sense . . . this couldn't happen . . . no one does this . . . and more.

That's why we need people to help us.

I've incorporated his first round of suggestions into the scene and sent it back. I'm waiting to see how close I've come to getting it right. Probably another go or two after this one before the technical part comes together.

This is why writers need people. None of us wants to be accused of ignorance or not doing our research.

Don't be afraid to ask for help.

It's nice to have people.


Mason Canyon said…
I'd say your advice is good. Having people is the best way to go.
Maryann Miller said…
Thanks for pointing out how important it is to get information correct, and how to find people to help us do that. I guess because of my journalism background, I never hesitated to call people to ask for input. When I needed to find out details about piano strings, which I learned are really called wire, I looked up piano tuners in the phone book and called one. He was most gracious in giving me information I needed, as well as pointing me toward others who could help with some of the more scientific info I needed.
KarenG said…
Excellent post, and especially for those reclusive writers like myself who tend to avoid people lol!
Joanne said…
I like your credo to never limit yourself. Research gives such authenticity to a story, and also gives the writer material to layer characters, scenes. Through research, I've gotten ideas to expand the plot too, taking it to places I hadn't thought of before the research. It helps in so many ways.
If I only wrote what I knew, my books would be the shortest books on record! I thank the powers that be for the internet and all those wonderful libraries round the world.
Carol Kilgore said…
Mason - Thanks. People are good :)

Maryann - I've never been shy about asking either. But so many people are.

Karen - Never hesitate to ask. People love to talk about things they know. And most people like to talk to writers. And you might be amazed by their stories and who they know.

Joanne - Exactly. I love doing research.
Carol Kilgore said…
Same here, Elspeth, on every point.
Southpaw said…
You are so right. Ya, ya right what you know, but that can be limiting so… research is crucial for a writer. People are wonderful and love to share. And when they know you are truly interested because you are vested in the information and want their expertise they give really neat minute details and interesting stories. You might not use them all but our personal lives are enriched by the experience.
Great point! Otherwise, we'll end up getting some emails from readers who KNOW we've gotten stuff wrong in our published novel. And taking a reader out of a book is the worst thing ever! It's all about the escape.

Mystery Writing is Murder
Carol Kilgore said…
Southpaw - You're right. We learn a lot of things by researching. Much more than what goes in the manuscript.

Elizabeth - Right. When we get something wrong and it's by accident, that's one thing. But to get something wrong that we could've easily prevented, that's different. I agree - it's all about escape.
arlee bird said…
"Write what you know" .... what is the origin of that quote anyway? I've heard it for 40 years and I guess it had been around for a while at that time. I wonder if somebody got the quote wrong and started making it's way around writing circles like one of those emails that you have to check on Snopes.
Anonymous said…
I couldn't agree more! What I find most amazing about so many authors is their willingness to learn and, in so doing, their acknowledgment of what they don't know. Those are great traits to have in general but, as an author, they're absolutely priceless to the reader.

Keep us posted on how you're collaboration on this scene works out. :) [What kind of sailing is that?]
I agree with you. I recently read an article on writing rules from famous authors. Rose Tremain said, “ Forget the boring old dictum "write about what you know". Instead, seek out an unknown yet knowable area of experience that's going to enhance your understanding of the world and write about that.” Sounds like that's just what you are doing.
Aubrie said…
This is a great post! Sometimes I ask my husband to fix my male POV. He'll say, "Men don't say that" and then cut ten words down to two! It's great to have someone to help out that knows what he is doing!
Carol Kilgore said…
Arlee - Maybe some writer made it up.

Kimberly - There's so much I don't know. The sailing scene involves a Hobie on open water.

Jane - It's amazing how much we learn when trying to learn only one tiny detail.

Aubrie - Yes, it is. I used to have a male critique partner, but we've parted ways. He was great at pointing out things like that.
Laura Eno said…
I completely agree with you. That advice to write what you know sounds very limiting.
Carol Kilgore said…
Especially for you, Laura. I'm so happy what you write is beyond what you know!
Angela said…
When I told my daughter I could never write a book because of my limited experience in life, she said, Go ahead and invent things! She knows I would only write queer stories anyway. But you are absolutely right, whenever you have a question, there is always someone who knows all about it, and probably has founded a circle of like-minded people! It`s amazing what people spend their time with!
VR Barkowski said…
Writers need people. Sometimes it's impossible to get the information we need out of a book or on the web. Beta readers, critiquers, cheerleaders, research contacts... I love 'em all. Yep, I love people, too. :)
Carol Kilgore said…
I couldn't agree more.