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Writing What You Know Is Not A Path

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It’s a gate. It’s a place to start, whether you’re describing a character or a place or an action. And you know more than you think.

Especially if you write science fiction or fantasy. Because then you’re free to make up the things you know from whole cloth in a few spots, maybe many. That’s a privilege other genres don’t have like we get in SFFPHM (Science Fiction, Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Magical realism). Other writers might make up a town or something, but their worlds are expected to act totally like the real world.

Settings aside, writing what you know also doesn’t mean every character has to be a writer or a retail person or a middle manager or whatever variety of things it might be that you do with your lifetime. Doesn’t mean all your aliens need to know what it’s like to poop or vomit. Doesn’t mean that your orcs need to be the orcs you know from all those movies with the really short dudes and a jewelry fetish.

Write what you know is great for writing the human bit of your story, though it’s a damn good thing to remember that if you’re writing about a culture or subculture you’re not familiar with, it’s best to consult members of that culture. Unless it’s elves. You’re not going to find any real elves to consult about your fictional ones, I’m afraid. HOWEVER that said if you’re going to base your elves’ culture strongly on the culture of southern Spain, you’d better be familiar with southern Spain in some significant way.

’nuff said. I’ve already harped on that enough and I hope you were listening.

Write what you know means the practical simple things around you, sure. Do use your memories, your pain, your joy, things that happened to you, places and people you’ve met (though tread lightly when writing a person who’s close to you lest ye complicate yer relationship).

Use the things that made you grieve. Use the things that made you weep with joy. You can choose not to reveal that those things came from within yourself if that’s what you want or need to do. Do use your writerly skills to file the serial numbers off them.

Write things you know you can feel. Because feeling (Hemingway would say, did say, bleeding) on the page speaks to readers. It can reach into your readers’ hearts where mere skill can only titillate their minds.

There are plenty of successful authors who do the latter. But the stories that do the former are remembered. They change minds and sometimes lives.

Don’t think it’s easy, though. No author succeeds at that every time. In fact, I think it’s an ideal that is rarely reached.

Do reach for it.

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SHOCK Star Wars Has Politics And Strong Women And People Of Color And GASP GAY PEOPLE?

(This post first appeared on my Patreon page. Come on by and visit!)

I’ve seen, and you’ve probably seen, a certain amount of “alt-right” and company (social injustice warriors, as I think of them) complaining about the SUDDEN APPEARANCE of the above in the Star Wars universe.

Which might lead you to wonder if any of the complainers actually watched any Star Wars anything (much less any of the novels).

–Politics: baked right into the very core of Star Wars. Hello, a republic grown complacent and clogged with bureaucracy and clinging to tradition is upended by a genocidal authoritarian dictatorship, giving rise to a resistance movement… yeah. Politics, man.

–Strong women: Look, Leia was pretty badass even back in the first movie. She only got tougher as things went along. And now, of course, Carrie Fisher has become more powerful than you could imagine. So, yeah. Not a shock if more tough women are showing up.

–POC: A weakness of the Star Wars movies in the beginning, and a shame Lando Calrissian was the only significant nod to the existence of people other than Caucasians in the beginning — a lack made even more obvious by the huge diversity of aliens running around. Frankly, it’s good to see more human diversity in more recent movies.

–LGBTQ: Basically, see above (though the aliens observation, already a minor side-point of my perception, grows strained here as I’m not sure I remember a lot of alien sexuality showing up either). Cheers to more human diversity. We’ve got lots of it on only one planet, and how many planets are humans on in the Star Wars universe? Yeah.

Look, provincial and insular people can yearn for provinciality and insularism all they want, but rapid and relatively cheap travel plus the instant worldwide multimedia communication environment of the internet will inevitably keep drawing our world together and exposing all of us to each others’ diverse everything. Diversity isn’t some weird left-wing fetish, it’s a FACT OF LIFE.

So, if someone (hello, social injustice warriors) wants to cling to the past: keep clinging, or alternately stop and admit the plain fact that life is change and change will keep happening whether you rage against it or tolerate it or accept it or embrace it. I know of those four options, embracing is by far the most positive and fun.

The “best” angry clingers could accomplish is dragging humanity back into a primitive insular xenophobic barbarity we haven’t even managed to fully exit yet. We’re a half-birthed civilization. Don’t let the technology fool you. The clingers (Klingons? Wrong universe, but still…) say society has gone to far, but it hasn’t gone far enough yet. Being born is the hardest part. Well, until death, but that needn’t come for humanity for a long time if we get our butts off this one little planet… but that’s another rant and one I come back to often.

Anyhow, angry Klingons: let go of your anger. That way leads to the Dark Side and a big smelly pile of Sith (seriously, that name, geez).