Writers Should Never Follow Advice. Or Should They?
Advice for writers can be helpful. Or not.
Writers are often puzzled by well meant advice. This is not to imply writers are puzzled more frequently than, say, barbers. Just that we get an awful lot of advice and well meaning or not, some if it is contradictory.
There is an old logic riddle about a wanderer who approaches two strangers, one of whom always tells the truth and one of whom always lies. The wanderer must choose between two paths which lie beyond the two strangers. One path leads to a vicious and hungry dragon who lives to eat wanderers while the other leads to a castle stocked with cookies and ice cream. The wanderer can only learn the best path by devising a question which will result in the same answer from both the truth teller and the liar.
The idea of one answer being both true and false is pretty cool. Unlike the actuality of an answer which is both true and false. That’s just frustrating.
For instance, in high school English class my teacher quoted Mark Twain with advice for aspiring writers. Purportedly Twain said: Write What You Know. Although online research is telling me it could have been Hemingway, or some other random quotable person. No one seems to know who said it first.
For anonymous punsters, advising writers seems to be a popular past time.
In any case, that particular piece of advice is half wrong. If we all followed the Write What You Know rule, library shelves would be nearly empty. There would be little in the way of non-fiction on them and no fiction at all except for autobiographies which often are unintentionally fiction. I mean, really. Who would ever have come up with vampires, fairies, ghosts, disappearing islands, flying horses, flying broomsticks or the entire body of science fiction if we only wrote what we knew?
But the other truth is we writers can’t help writing what we know. We just don’t always realize we are doing so. Say Jane writes a romance about a relationship between a Billionairess from an imaginary country accessible only by spaceship and a Centaur/Merman from the continental shelf. Even though the characters and settings are out of Jane’s personal experience (unless Jane is a lot more interesting than I give her credit for) there will still be things Jane knows which end up in the story.
For example, she knows these two crazy lovers will never make it if they can’t grow and change. The Billionairess will have to give up her long held prejudice against ocean dwellers. The Centaur/Merman must learn to treasure his mixed horse-fish heritage. Jane knows this without having ever been a wealthy woman. Without having ever fallen in love with a denizen of the continental shelf.
Jane may not have personal experience being from an imaginary country or living under the sea, but she can apply the knowledge she does have to the situations she has created. Which is a good thing, since the situations she creates are pretty ridiculous.
Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.