Saturday, November 14, 2009

Write What You Don't Know

They say "Write what you know," but with my NaNoWriMo I find there is a good corollary to that: Write what you don't know but conceivably could. I'm not talking about fantasy where you can make up pretty much anything as long as you stay consistent. This applies to writing about places you've never been, cars you've never driven, jobs and hobbies you've never had. This also applies to sci-fi stuff if you are trying to make your warp-drive vehicle convincing but haven't taken a physics class since high school. The obvious tool for this is Google. Use Google maps to discover whether any major tourist attractions are near the neighborhood wherein your character allegedly lives, find restaurant reviews to describe a restaurant where you have never eaten, use Wikipedia to find out more about one character's hobby or another one's job, and look at FreeTechBooks for some hints about scientific principles that would apply to your fictional spacecraft. The possibilities extend so much more than that, of course.

Once you have your information, don't spill all the details. For one thing, you're sure to bore your readers (though if you're doing NaNoWriMo, you might not care). More importantly, the more details you provide, the more likely you are to get something wrong. I have apartment complexes picked out for my characters, and they are down the street from each other and near a Thai place. However, I do not mention the names of any of the places, in case the Thai place has changed since those reviews were written, or in case I make a guess on some information that can't be found online and I turn out to be wrong. Suppose I mention my apartment complex having mailboxes, when letters are really pushed through a mail slot on the apartment door? Suppose I mention someone locking an apartment door, when they really lock on their own? So I leave out names, except for things like the Seattle Space Needle, where it is unavoidable. Being vague works for science fiction too. If you don't know a lot about physics, but you know from the Internet that your original design could never have worked, change it a bit but be really vague about the principles involved and why.

I would love to elaborate a bit on this, but I need to go give my writing attention to my own NaNoWriMo.

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