You Don't Really Know What Writing What You Know Means (Or, We All Know One of Those People)


You know the saying. Write what you know. People do it. People don't do it. People advise it and against it. People debate about it. Well, I'm here to slide my two cents across the table to you, and tell you that what you might perceive as writing what you know isn't necessarily writing what you know.

Oh, and the caption on the poster to the left? It says Anyone is a weapon if you twist them. 

So, today I sat down in my Extension English I lesson to a discussion with director Adam Blaiklock, whose first feature film Caught Inside (It's actually phenomenal. Support him and Australian film and try and catch it wherever you are if it's nearby) I saw a couple weeks ago. Its theme surrounds the concept that we don't want to take responsibility for the monsters we create.

Essentially, this film is about a surfing trip off the coast of Indonesia, where the only law is set by one's skipper, and a group of Australian tourists find themselves faced with a monster they've created. This monster is one of their own - Bull, one of those aggressive jock-types who was always getting egged on by his mates to show off how masculine or awesome he was...We all know a guy like Bull. But the thing is that they push Bull to an extent that when he turns on them, well, they're stuck in the middle of no where on a boat with a psychopath whose mere physicality is more intimidating than any knife onboard.

I mean, oy with the poodles already.

Obviously, a lot of writers don't write about what they've experienced when they write about witches and vampires and time travel and angels and krakens falling in love with post-adolescent young men. I have heard from quite a few writers, especially novices, that because they fall into this fantastical category that they don't need to draw on personal experience.


I am a firm believer that the best stories are those driven by their characters. And it doesn't matter if you have a nine hundred year old Time Lord or an eighty year old necromancer or a homeless teenager who steals the Crabby Patty Formula. People always retain their individuality, their unique stream of consciousness, their perception of what is occurring around them and the effect said occurrences have on them.

Maybe you don't get what I'm hinting at. Alright, so I want you to force a montage in your head. I want you to do it. Just think of as many different sorts of people you have met over the course of your life. Think of their characteristics, their stereotypes, what they did to conform to your idea of them, what they did to surprise you. Just, think.

If you still don't get what I'm hinting at, then look. We all know:

This girl. Everyone has one.
Today is Halloween. If you haven't noticed it before,
you're about to notice it tonight.

We also all know these people:

We recognise these relationships:

Looking at those people, those interactions, surely your mind conjured up visions of people you know, scenarios you've witnessed, experiences you've had. Surely? Well, my friend, that is how you can always, no matter what your genre, write what you know.

Relationships and characters are so important. 


You need for your readers to relate to your characters. That doesn't necessarily mean they need to be envisioning their best friend or their arch nemesis. If you've got an emotionally distant character, maybe they're going to think of that guy that's always at the supermarket checkout or their neighbour.

But what is so sorely lacking in a lot of films and, regrettably, novels nowadays is that the composer doesn't let their audience think. Let them speculate, let them bring their own perceptions about characters and possible situations to the table and let them actually try and figure out what the bloody hell is going on as you are expertly inferring it.

Writing what you know in this sense is giving yourself the means to set your dialogue alight, to make your motives ring true, to let the events which unfold truly spring from your characters. You need to acquaint yourself with your characters to the extent that you could be inviting them over and sitting down to dinner with them to talk about that new sock they've just released at Costco designed especially for quest-length journeys (as in, on a scale of one to Lord of the Rings, how far did you walk today?)

Yes, you heard me.

So, there's the write what you know in terms of research which is more befitting under the latter term anyways, and then there's write what you know which in my opinion stems from experience.

To bring it back to Caught Inside and today's discussion, Adam Blaiklock got the film idea from a surfing trip that he was on, where people's choices and how they reacted to encouragement from their environment shaped their situation. You can literally write what you know, but for a lot of us that would consist of the routine of school, the routine of work, the routine or home or the occasional trip out to a commercial area designed to suck up your money like some sort of metaphorical vacuum cleaner.

And if you did that, well, you know those things on the Vogsphere planet in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy which smack you in the face every time you had an idea? Yeah, well, I would strategically place those around your house.

So, I want you to write what you know in terms of character, in terms of people, in terms of your own observations. Have you ever sat down somewhere and just looked at the people and made up backstories or wondered why they were acting a certain way or in a certain place? Well, try and think who people remind you of whenever you have a spare moment. Look at how they move, how they speak, how their faces scrunch and wrinkle in reactions.

Tell me, do you write people you know into your work? Do you like when you can relate back to your own life and experiences? Or do you think that reading is escapism, particularly fantasy, and that our characters should be as fantastical as our settings?  



Congrats to KAYLYN WATERS, winner of THE NAME OF THE STAR by Maureen Johnson!

In other news,

I'm really going to try and not disappear on you guys now that I've started Year 12. Silly me went and took on three major works. You can probably expect some posts on short stories and beginnings and plotting and such, and some stuff on alluding to previous works or times or writers.

Hope everything is well in your worlds. 

The Fitzgeraldist: Win THE NAME OF THE STAR by Maureen Johnson

Many thanks to Lara over at HarperCollins for providing this review copy.

The day Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London marks a memorable occasion. For Rory, it's the start of a new life at a London boarding school. But for many, this will be remembered as the day a series of brutal murders broke out across the city, gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper events of more than a century ago.

Soon “Rippermania” takes hold of modern-day London, and the police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man police believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him. Even her roommate, who was walking with her at the time, didn't notice the mysterious man. So why can only Rory see him? And more urgently, why has Rory become his next target? In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, full of suspense, humor, and romance, Rory will learn the truth about the secret ghost police of London and discover her own shocking abilities.

Maureen Johnson has quite a following, from her book fans to those who follow her tweets, and I haven't quite had the pleasure of delving into either of those. So, I was one of the (perhaps, perhaps not) few who was drawn to THE NAME OF THE STAR purely from its premise. And it didn't disappoint. This is a light-hearted, easy read that doesn't butcher London, doesn't consist of ghost hunters investigating old houses and jumping out of their skins at creaky doors, and manages to be thoroughly engaging throughout.

Her supporting cast come alive well and truly, and it's indubitable that their strength makes the book what it is. However, saying that, often Johnson fell into stereotypes that she had to work hard to defy. The arch-nemesis as Head Girl, the absent parents, the noble policeman-slash-mentor. The real issue I had was with the villain, whose motives don't quite line up, but whose character as written by Johnson is engaging enough to override that. Oh, and extra points for the fact any kissy-time was either done off the clock or in a casual way, and there were no my one and only for all eternity moments to be seen. In fact, I didn't find it a romance so much as a fool-around in the library stacks.

While there is a cliff-hangery type ending, and the trilogy has been announced, THE NAME OF THE STAR could very well be a standalone. The paranormal aspect to the plot is expertly interwoven with the day-to-day concerns of a teenager, and for a horror nut with some high expectations, I was pleasantly surprised and entertained.


  • to enter, please fill out the form below
  • entrants must be 13 years of age or older
  • contest deadline is October 20, 2011
  • open international
  • one form entry per person

Always the Robin, Never the Bat (Or, RTW: Sidekick Stardom)

Over at YA Highway, there is a weekly meme running called Road Trip Wednesday, where a writing-or-book-related question is asked of both the road trippers and audience, the answers to which are linked in the comments.

This week, RTW asks us which secondary character from a YA novel we would like to see star in a story of their very own. You know the character, sometimes set up in a fashion reflecting the author's lack of concern at whether the reader likes or dislikes them. Often the comic relief, or the bait. Or even someone that you really weren't meant to get attached to, a plot device or background noise. So, my answer?

I could talk to you about the story potential in THE HUNGER GAMES' Finnick Odair, or in Barron Sharpe, the protagonist's older brother in Holly Black's THE CURSE WORKERS series. Hell, even Adrian Ivashkov from the VAMPIRE ACADEMY books. And you know that I am all for some Weasley love.

But I have to say:

These guys. The Marauders. Namely, Sirius Black and Remus Lupin. As well as Lily and Severus Snape. Can't you just imagine it? I think it would be bloody brilliant, to be honest, documenting Voldemort's original rise to power, with the whole 70's changes in the Muggle World and Lily donning tie dyes under her robes, and some serious foreshadowing to the events that took place in Harry's time and how the characters would shape into their adult selves.

Bro. These brothers need some lovin'.

So, how about you? Comments are below. Which secondary character from a YA book or series would you like to see as the star of a series of their own?

On My Door Mat (II)


This is a legitimate change in a conventional title. Seriously. There are Pringles tubes with a wider girth than my mailbox, and I would like to say that my postman was not a total creeper and considered the etiquette in just placing packages atop the cube that is my mailbox instead of singing Queen continually, loudly (and tunelessly) right up below my bedroom window and placing them on my doormat. But I can't.

Ergo, my books arrive on my door mat.

Basically, In My Mailbox is a weekly-monthly-bimonthly-seasonal meme hosted by Kristi over at The Story Siren, and inspired by Alea of Pop Culture Junkie. Some write on their blogs, some write on napkins, some podcast or vlog or comment or tweet I suppose. I, however, have decided that I talk far too much and so I will be vlogging mime-style and adding notes here. Now, due to the overwhelming lack of books that I have bought lately, these are all the books that I plan on doing things with that I have been neglecting.

So, without further ado: On My Door Mat II.

From Harpercollins:
  • ARC of THE NAME OF THE STAR by Maureen Johnson
  • POSSESS by Gretchen McNeil
  • WARM BODIES by Isaac Marion
  • ONE DAY by David Nicholls
  • ENCLAVE by Ann Aguirre
  • A NEED SO BEAUTIFUL by Suzanne Young
Film credits to: Sixteen Candles, Constantine, Zombieland, One Day, and Doctor Who   

So, what's on your door mat?
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