Should You Write What You Know?

Writing a novel is no easy task. It takes a lot of patience, perseverance and even a little skill. It starts with an idea, but it doesn’t have to necessarily be an idea drawn from your own life. It can also come from outside your experience. In fact, many novels do come from outside the experience of their authors. Consider the book, “The Godfather.” Was its author, Mario Puzo, a member of the Mafia? No, he was actually a government clerk who wanted to write a bestselling book—and that’s exactly what he did.

The Reader is the Customer

Many of us think our own life experiences are exciting and interesting, but how many times have you heard someone describe something that happened in their childhood or even something recent that had you checking your watch or making an excuse to get away. If you ran away at five and joined the circus, became a drug addict and married the bearded lady, then you may indeed have a story in the making. But if you’re like most of us, your life is probably only exciting to you. The reader is the customer, the one paying the money to buy your book. Give them a thrill ride they won’t forget and they will come back for more.

Choosing a Subject

Think of a subject that fascinates you—underwater cave exploration, archeology, entomology, the great depression—something that has always amazed you but about which you know next to nothing. Then, incorporate that into your novel by making it an integral part or even the subject of your story. Try combining genres, as well. Stephen King’s Gunslinger series is a good example of this. He combined a gritty, Clint Eastwood style western feel with a Lord of the Rings fantasy world and created a totally unique series of books.

Doing the Research

Make sure you research your subject thoroughly, because true buffs will pick it apart if your facts and details aren’t straight. If you are researching a book about a pirate who lived in the 17th century, look up everything you can on pirates of that era in the library and on the internet and if possible, visit a few museums or places where pirates once lived. Pretend like you’re an actor researching a part for a movie and get into your characters’ heads.

Don’t Get Bogged Down in the Details

Do just enough research to make your story believable. You don’t have to know the entire history of Western civilization to write a novel about Coronado. Learn everything you can about the man that pertains to your subject. If it’s a novel about Coronado’s search for the Seven Cities of Gold, focus on that and use the actual historical events alongside your fictionalized accounts of what happened to help add realism and believability to your story.

Adding Your Own Experiences

Experiences from your own life can also help the story, even though your experiences may not be the focus. For instance, if you have ever been to Mexico, use your memories of the country in your descriptions of scenery or places you may have visited that were there in Coronado’s day. If your novel is set in the present day, more the better since your memories would be of modern day Mexico. Use any of your own experience you can to embellish your story and help bring it alive for readers.

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