Thursday, October 21, 2010

Writing Tip of the Week - Write What You Don't Know by Theresa Danley

Perhaps every serious writer has heard the advice, “write what you know.” Actually, this line may very well have been elevated it to the ranks of golden rules for writers.

Well, I would like to bring attention to the old cliché that rules are meant to be broken.

Okay, okay, I understand and agree that there is no substitute for knowledge and experience in the subject you are writing about. Your writing can only be enhanced by focusing on what you know. But may I suggest a subtle change of pace?

Could your writing benefit from what you don’t know?

What I’m recommending is a simple change of scenery, especially if you’ve reached a stagnant point in your writing. So what kind of detour am I suggesting? Well, how about a couple of options, starting with good old fashioned research.

Wait! This isn’t as painful as it sounds!

Perhaps there’s been something you’ve heard or seen recently that caught your attention. Maybe you found something intriguing, but know nothing about it. This could be opportunity knocking at your door! Use that little spark of interest and do a quick internet search to learn a little more about that subject. You may find a whole new world opening up to you. Case in point, my archaeological thriller, Effigy, came about through research on an entirely different project!

Discovering a new subject can be exciting, but discovering a new genre can be challenging. Each genre has its own set of standards. When we write romance, for example, we know that our readers expect to find romantic elements within the story. If a romance writer chose to explore the thriller genre, perhaps that author can take something away from their new-found genre and punch out a great romantic thriller.

Blending elements from different genres isn’t a new concept by any means, but I think our own personal writing can benefit by experimenting in different arenas. The goal isn’t to become genre jumpers, but stepping out of our own comfort zones once in a while can provide valuable lessons. For example, while writing Effigy, certain areas of the story became heavy in action with little dialogue shared between the characters. To help remedy the situation, I learned how to turn the story into a screenplay. Because of the rigid structure of screenwriting (the story must be condensed to approximately120 pages - the equivalent of 120 minutes of an average movie – not to mention the majority of the story must be carried through dialogue), I not only found ways for my characters to talk through the action, but I also inadvertently discovered ways to cut the excess from the book and tighten the story. This was a huge advancement for someone who knew nothing about writing movies!

Researching a new subject and learning a new genre are just two ways you can refresh your interest and excitement for writing. Through learning comes knowing, which brings us right back to that golden rule. Maybe we’re not breaking any rules after all!

Theresa Danley lives along the hi-line of Montana where she keeps busy raising her family, riding horses and writing to satisfy her interest in history and archaeology. She is currently completing a sequel to EFFIGY.


jrlindermuth said...

Good advice, Theresa. Sometimes a challenge is exactly what we need to get the bland out of our writing.

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Theresa,
Interesting blog. You have really set me thinking about going outside my comfort zone and writing about something I don't know anything about - until I do some research on it.