Write What You Know

Ah, that one simple sentence which is the bane of every fantasy writer’s existence.

“Write what you know.”

“But how then?” The fantasy writer argues, frowning and leaning forward in his chair, “am I to write about dragons? Fairy balls? Death-defying rescues?”

The answer is simpler than you may believe.

Fiction is Truth’s elder sister,” Rudyard Kipling once said. “Obviously. No one in the world knew what truth was until someone had told a story.”

Many a creme-colored page has explored the subject of truth within fiction, of fantasy within reality.

The question, when it comes to writing, is always the same: Should you write what you know? Or should you not?

Strangely, however, as far as my reading has taken me at least, no one has ever questioned what that phrase actually means.

Write what you know means that you should write about real things in the real world because it makes the story more real.

It is assumed to mean the story in its entirety.

But what if that’s not its definition at all?

Have you ever been afraid? Felt your heart pounding in your chest? Felt your hands go numb with fear as adrenaline thunders in your ears?

Have you ever been happy? Felt your smiles stretch over the corners of your lips? Felt your heart expand with warmth and your eyes dance with joy?

Have you ever been in love? Felt a rush of pride to your loved one praised? Felt a flood of relief after they experience a moment of danger?

Those emotions are real. More real than anything ever could be in this world.

You know what it’s like to gaze up at a night sky. You know what it’s like to wonder. You know what it’s like to pull socks onto your feet. You know what it’s like to try and catch the sound of a whisper. You know what it’s like to strike a match and light a candle. You know what baking cookies smell like. You know what it’s like to awake from the land of dreams.

Those details are real. They are all just little things, perhaps, but details are what this world is made of.

Tiny, real details, like grains of sand, make up the shore of your story. Those overwhelming waves of emotion make up its endless sea. Your imagination does the rest, encasing your story in a vast blue dome of the sky.

No. You’ve never fought a dragon. But you know what fear is, don’t you? And what a burn feels like.

No. You’ve never received an invitation to a fairy ball. But you know what happiness is, don’t you? And what it’s like to dance.

No. You’ve never lept over the edge of a cliff to save someone. But you know what love is, don’t you? And what fearful eyes look like.

Write what you know.

docendo disco, scribendo cogito,
– Millie Florence

3 thoughts on “Write What You Know

  1. Abigayle Claire says:

    Love this! It’s a very good perspective, I think. Because even though I don’t write fantasy, I also don’t write what I know as far as circumstances go. I mean … my first book had a pregnant teen. That’s not been my experience. Pretty sure I did a blog post on how much I hate this piece of advice at one point too ;P

  2. susannah says:

    Wow Millie! This was so wonderfully written!
    As a fantasy writer, this subject did come to mind a couple of times. This post was very helpful.

    Thank you.

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