Monday, September 7, 2009

Axioms, Idioms & Idiots

"Go with what you know. Only write about that which you know most about." by this precept Lord of the Rings could not have been written because who really knows many hobbits, elves, dark lords and elephants? Oh, the elephants were real? You get my point though.

...and I guess Chewbacca would have been the only one qualified to write Star Wars because frankly, none of the rest of us have been to Tatooine...but do you really want to read a book by Chewbacca? He said very few profound things in my opinion; but apparently is not illiterate.

Lastly, though I've never read or seen a single Harry Potter book/movie (I'll wait until all the gasps of horror quiet down), I'm pretty sure that J.K. Rowling has not seen a boarding school full of child witches (forgive me die hard fans for summarizing your favorite story to something so simplistic and probably inaccurate).

Granted, these are all examples of fantasy and sci-fi so of course no one can really write about what they know in these realms...but I think that other genres can have great works written by people with limited experience. That is the power of the imagination.

Have you heard any sayings or received any advice about your craft that you dislike or disagree with or simply don't know where the heck they came from? Also, did you know there were this many supposed origins to the theater term "break a leg"? You have to scroll down to see them

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  1. No... Can it be possible? A Harry Potter virgin? Oh, How I wish I could go back to the pre-world to experiance it all over again. (Sigh) Good point, fantasy is all about creating a new world. Very different than the idea of writing what you know. I think the idea here is write what you believe to be true. Whether it is or isn't doesn't really matter. As long as it's true to you in your story, it should work.

  2. LOL, I've never ventured into Potter land either!!!! Shhh.....

  3. I always disliked that one, too, particularly b/c I write fantasy-ish stories mostly, but I think I'm starting to understand it more. To me, 'write what you know' now relates more to the characters than the setting/plot.

    One I never liked was to be a writer, you've got to read a lot. Personally, I think you've got to have a command of the English language and you have to write a lot (reading helps some, but in some ways, IMO, it can be detrimental when you're first starting out).

    Fascinating origins... crazy Greeks.

  4. Right now, I'm really frustrated with word count guidelines. Why is it so important that YA have so few words? My daughter is fifteen and she reads Jodi Picoult, whose books never have less than 80,000 words. Why do they think teenagers won't pick up a book that is too big? I just don't get it! And, by the way, I've never read Harry Potter either, and I'm pretty sure those books have way more than 80,000 words. :)

  5. Lazy Writer ~ I'm just guessing here, but I think that although many YA readers (like your daughter) will read copiously, many others are too intimidated to pick up a book that looks "too long." And perhaps it has to do with cost? Also, the first HP book was much shorter than the others, to lure the readers in, as well as the publishers, apparently!

    Oh, if only I had the marketing power of George Lucas! My son LIVES in Star Wars, and the stories are so rich and varied (not to mention the toys) that I drool with envy.

    Regarding "write what you know," that has always bugged me, too, Regina.

    Consider Jane Austen. She lived in a very rigidly structured feminine world, and never wrote a single scene in which a woman was not in the room because, of course, she didn't know what men talked about when they were alone. She also never wrote about her heroines being married because she herself never was.

    However, she was a very careful observer and drew such stunning character portraits of all kinds of people - including men and married couples - that they are still compelling today.

    I remember being criticized in my college writing class for writing a story about college students. The (jerk) author who was teaching it said that the story "seemed trivial" because it was "just about students, and their problems don't really matter" in the larger scheme. I was stunned. I was writing about what I knew, and so far, school was it!

    Since then I've concluded that the principle should really be "Know what you write." So if you are going outside your experience, you need to research it carefully. Or, in the case of fantasy, think it through very thoroughly. I admire Jane Austen for sticking to her guns, but I think she could easily have written some excellent scenes of smoking-room conversation or marital bliss or bickering.

  6. I really hate that horrible little bit of advice. I think it might make your novels more believable if you sprinkle it with bits of what you know but how dull would the work be if we didn't stretch our imagination? I can't think of another piece of advice that is as far off the mark as that one.