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About Writing Right: The Blog


I ran across a question the other day that went something like this: Must an author only write a novel about something he has personally experienced? Well, I like shooting ducks in a barrel, so here's how I responded.

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First, is this a serious question, or did you lose a bet? If you read the other two responses you've received as of this writing, you know what I mean.


Second, if you read those responses, you should also know enough to take both of them with a big grain of salt. The respondent peddling a book telling how long it takes to write a novel, what you should do "about your first draft" (whatever that means!), and how to revise is ridiculous. Making blanket statements designed to fit every personality, work ethic, and talent level is a waste of time and energy. There is no blueprint for writing a novel—only suggestions on various ways to do it.


And, the other respondent, hawking the notion that you have to do research to write about things you haven't experienced, has apparently led such a sheltered life that he's never been exposed to other novels, television, film, newspapers, magazines, the Internet, and everyday life on the street right outside his door or in his own living room. Again, a blanket statement such as that falls by the wayside of logical analysis. Whew!


Of course, there is a place for research in writing. It's called nonfiction. If you're going to state facts and advise people on how best to accomplish something (or even what the past looked like under King Louis VIII), you're probably going to have to break out the old Encyclopedia Britannica. Of course, if you're writing fiction, you may also want to do a little research here and there, depending upon your genre, in order to lend a level of authenticity to your writing. Crime and Mystery as well as Historicals and Sci-Fi come immediately to mind. But, in general, fiction writing and research aren't exactly conjoined at the hip.


Even the old literary admonition of "Write about what you know" is seriously flawed. Instead, the warning should be "Write about what you can envision." One needn't know what it's like to pull the trigger of a gun pointed at the person standing next to him as long as he can envision what doing so entails. If he can see it in his mind, feel the tension in the air, hear the sound, and smell the smoke as the cartridge explodes from the muzzle—and then describe that experience for his reader—he's gold. See where I'm going with this? The key in writing fiction isn't about writing what you have experienced or what you have researched. It's about creating those images you can see clearly enough in your mind to be able to put them on paper so your readers can envision them, too. Got that? Good.


Now, with all that said and out of the way, you already knew the answer to your question before you asked it. So, again, I'm wondering why you wasted people's time in doing so. Or, am I missing something here? Either way, feel free to drop me a line and let me know at my Website's Contact page. I'll be waiting for you.

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D. J. Herda is author of the new series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available in eBook, paperback, and hardcover formats at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. You can check out his weekly column, "The Author-Ethicist," at Substack.

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