Thursday, June 18, 2009

Odd Ducks

--Adrienne Miller

Write what you know.

I hate that adage. Cause the things I write about I have never experienced. I have never waltzed at a ball. I have never worn a corset. The closest I have ever been to Scotland is the local Highland Games at the fairgrounds--and no, I won’t eat the haggis.

What I do have is access to a fantastic library system, a high speed connection to Google and a bucket load of imagination. I’ve always thought that was enough.

Turns out, I thought wrong.

This weekend I listened to two authors I admire speak at my local RWA chapter. One question they asked stuck in my head.

What special expertise do you bring to your work?

Well, crap, I thought. I don’t. I drive a Toyota Avalon to work everyday; I don’t ride in phaeton through Hyde Park. I don’t have any expertise on the little details of my characters daily lives. Lots of resources, yes. Real expertise, no.

But as I was driving home, obsessing over my shortcomings as a writer, it hit me. I may not know off the top of my head what kind of material my heroine’s nightgown is made of, but I do know her. We have a connection, her and I.

You see, I don’t write regular heroines--or heroes either, now that I think about it. Mine are not the graceful, slender beauties of society. Nope, I’ve got a smart-mouthed pickpocket, and an unsophisticated but wickedly clever lady’s companion. There is one very rich heiress who keeps poking around my head, but even she insists on wearing pants.

I write about odd ducks, because I am one. That’s what I know. That’s my area of expertise. I know what it’s like to be a little different than everyone else. I know how it feels not to neatly fit in either column A or B.

This is what I bring to my characters. They aren’t weird for weird’s sake. They just are who they are. And since I throw them down in the middle of England’s Regency period, with all its social rules and expectations, I usually don’t have to search very hard for conflict.

So in a way I do write what I know. But I still hate that saying.


tina ambury said...

"There is one very rich heiress who keeps poking around my head, but even she insists on wearing pants."
So you're a very rich heiress then?

Anonymous said...

Oh that's great. That has been one of my fears in starting anything substantial, I am very limited in only writing things that I have personally experienced.

So, the key would be to meet my characters, and let them have their *own* experiences. I am happy to go along for the ride.

Juliet Blackwell said...

I've always wondered about that adage as well because, after all, we write *fiction*. If it was entirely true wouldn't it know...NON-fiction???

Unknown said...

You are brilliant :) I think everyone struggles with the concept of writing what you know vs. what you want and you encapsulated exactly why we should write what moves us because inside the framework is some piece that we *know*. :)

Adrienne Bell said...

Tina- Don't I wish. That one falls under the bucketload of imagination category.
Mom 911- oooo, Meeting my characters is my favorite part of the process. Before they start defying me.
Juliet- So true.
Lisa - Wow, thanks.

Rachael Herron said...

I love that. What a great way to say it.

Dana Fredsti said...

If everyone only wrote what they know as in what they experience in their own lives, we would be VERY short of historical fiction, fantasy and horror. You've nailed it - if you know your characters (and do the research necessary to make their worlds believable), the writing world is your oyster!

Sophie Littlefield said...

ordinary ducks are....well, ordinary. cheers :)

Martha Flynn said...

i say we try some haggis.

Tom Neely said...

Quack, quack baby. Looks like odd birds of a feather like to hang out together too. Write on fellow weirdo.

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