Are you writing what you know? Really?

The last time I needed a new idea for a book, I had an online brainstorming session with one of my crit partners. We basically exchanged a bunch of weird questions until we came up with some real ideas. I don’t want to list all of the questions here because frankly, the ones that resulted in what seemed like a brilliant idea about a girl who has an affair with cheese, well, they’re just wrong. Instead, I will give you the ones I found most helpful.

1) What’s your favourite book, TV show or movie and why? Who are your favourite characters from these? What characteristics make you love them? Make you hate them?
2) Name the 5 most pivotal moments and decisions in your life. How did they change you?
3) Name the 5 most pivotal people in your life. Why are they so influential?

Answers from #1 and #3 help you create the kind of characters you will enjoy writing about (and hopefully, ones that others will enjoy reading about). Answers from #2  go directly to the root of  WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW.  Often, people mistake this tip for settings. For example, you once worked at a Starbucks and thus should write a book about someone who works at a Starbucks. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do this but if you do, you are missing the real gems here. WHAT YOU KNOW is more about the experiences you’ve had that have shaped you into the person you are. The most important of these experiences are listed in your answers to #2. These are the kinds of things we want to see in a character arc. 

Because I like to use examples, here are some of my answers to the above questions (sorry, but I’m not giving my top ones to #2):

  1. Bridget Jones’ Diary (book and movie). I love Bridget for being funny and for not taking herself too seriously. I love that she is flawed but doesn’t let that stop her from trying to find love and success.
  2. When I was 14, the first boy I thought I loved told me he wanted to date me but also wanted to date another girl at the same time. He was older than me and a total Adonis. Dating him would have been like a fast-track to popularity. I wanted to say, “Okay” but instead, I told him where he could go. And it wasn’t somewhere nice. This moment was pivotal because it made me realize that I couldn’t love someone who didn’t respect me…a pretty harsh lesson at 14.
  3. My sister because she knows what she wants and gets it.

The next step is to take these answers and see if you can put them together into an idea for a book. Using my above example, I could write about a girl who is funny like Bridget (#1), experiences #2 while surrounded by someone like #3.

Make sense?

Category: On Writing