The title for today's missive is trotted out as the collective wisdom of Those that Know Things in the writing world. I've seen the phrase repeatedly in writing primers, forums, and blogs. Ok, I said to myself, and sat down to write.
The problem is, I write fantasy. So how do I write what I know when I have to invent a world, and possibly creatures, hitherto unknown, and factually non-existent?
My first reaction was that this was a false trail, a red herring, laid down by devious Pubbers to shrink the slush pile by screening out ignorant writers: I haven't altogether given up the idea, since some Pubbers repeatedly refer to the high percentage of queries that are "crap". One high-profile Pubber has even revealed the use of interesting (but foul-sounding) device, a Crap-o-Meter. One wonders what units of measurement it uses. However, lacking proof, this must remain only a working hypothesis, like European assumptions that George W. Bush is an idjit.
Secondly, I wondered if readers really do want to hear what I know about certain of my relatives. Do they really want to know that Auntie has been styling her hair in the same fashion since the Roosevelt Administration, or that Brother eats peas 'n rice with corn syrup? (Actually, not all that bad...) And if readers do, do I really want to run the risk of Auntie's retaliatory wrath? Will my Internal Editor let me? And how in the chicken gumbo do I make it interesting?
Thirdly, though I realize that the internet has opened up resources to the writer never before seen ( and some better not seen), from blogs in Chaucerian Englyshe, to catalogues of useful ancient stuff, to Pubber Facts and Figures, these help mainly in researching details. A non-fiction or freelance writer, if they run out of Things they Know, can always, you know, learn about something Else; a fantasy writer still has to make stuff up.
So I decided that while this hoary piece of writing wisdom may work for other writers, it did about zippitydooda for me.
So I asked myself, "Self, what kind of book do you want to read?" and I myself answered my Self (follow me now), "I want to read a different kind of fantasy." So I myself sat down and wrote the kind of book that I My Self wanted to read. Others have read it, and so far most of them like it (Pubbers excluded, thus far), so I think I'm on to something. What it is I don't altogether know, but it must have to do with writing stuff I like.
Which brings up the subject of Genre.
For me, choosing to write in my favorite Genre, i.e. what I like, is more liberating than writing What I Know, because I am writing about things I love, or hate, or would love to have, or hate to lose. And as a Fantasy writer, I don't think I am any different from other writers in other Genres; my world has to be just as coherent, my characters just as believable, my details just as precise as those who write Mysteries, or Romances, or Thrillers. Maybe more so, since I may be asking my readers to suspend disbelief in a totally non-factual world.
I left out Literary Fiction, since nobody seems to be able to give a definition for it. ( I made up my own: Books that Take Themselves Much too Seriously to Be Enjoyed). I also left out Mainstream Fiction because that brings up unfortunate mental images of test strips that have to be held mid-stream...
There is something, though, that writers in every Genre have to do, I believe; get the reader to dive into the page and surround himself with the Writer's crafted Dream. I believe that the authentication, or 'proof', or persuasion, that the writer uses toward this end is the use of specific, concrete, vivid details, both in description and characters.
But that's a blog of a different color.