There is a famous piece of advice to writers: Write what you know.
Its validity is sometimes disputed, because crime writers write about murder and rape without having actually experienced it themselves, and science fiction writers write about whole worlds and alien races that they couldn’t possibly have experienced. But it’s good advice for beginners, to draw on your own experiences, people and places you know, in order to give your story a touch of realism.
As you will know if you follow my blogs, I am writing a science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel, the first novel of which, Intruders, I’m editing now. One of the main characters is Tabitha Enns, an eighteen year old trainee who has been plucked out of the academy for some work experience on the Kestrel. This was all done in a hurry to fill a gap in the crew, and she gets a lot more than she expected.
The first shock is that they are an all-male crew and she has to share a cabin. Luckily Andrew Chambers treats her like a kid sister and looks after her. She also hits a problem with the youngest crewman, Roy Stubbs, who fancies her. She has never had a boyfriend and doesn’t know what to do, or even if she is reading the signals right.
Wind the clock back over 40 years and you find me in exactly the same situation. I was very shy and was eighteen before I had my first date. It’s been a strange experience, dredging up all those memories: the awkwardness, the embarrassment, the fear of being laughed at or rejected or gossiped about, plucking up the courage to ask another girl for advice. But I can certainly write what I know, even though Tabitha is from a high gravity Earth colony and working on a space ship.
‘Write what you know’ doesn’t mean you have to set your stories in your street, in your past. That may be a rich seam of ideas, but sometimes it’s the little things. The way your aunty spoke or your cousin dressed. The thoughts and emotions you have felt or witnessed at different times in your life. A catch phrase or story someone used to tell. Tabitha gives advice to Andrew Chambers that helps him through a difficult time – advice straight out of my husband’s mouth!
Now, what do you know that you can put in your writing?