2.3.16

Writing What You DON"T Know #IWSG

"Write what you know" is common advice to writers, and for the most part, that's what I do---mostly out of sheer laziness. But there is a downside to it, at least in the romance genre where I play. I've learned that romance readers tend to have a zero tolerance policy toward anything in the story that isn't romance. When I give my characters jobs that I've worked or a faith that I practice, I have to be careful about over-informing the reader.

Significant paring back happens during my second and third drafts and then again during the editing process. And still I get complaints here and there about the bits I left in regarding investment analysis---in a story where two characters get to know each other through a business project---or Catholicism---in a story about a freaking angel.

So here's my brilliant solution for my current WIP---the main character is a lawyer. I know nothing about lawyering. I have no interest in ever knowing anything about lawyering. Therefore, I research only the bare minimum and run no risk of over-informing the reader on legal matters. This makes it easier to keep the focus on the MC and his romantic "journey" (as the producers of The Bachelor would have us all say).

I still think "write what you know" is good advice, but there's a definite upside to writing what you don't. Have you ever written what you don't know and purposely not done a ton of research?


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This post is part of the monthly blog hop/therapy session known as Insecure Writers Support Group, founded by the one and clonely Alex J. Cavanaugh.


22 comments:

Jennifer Lane said...

"In a story about a freaking angel" ha ha. I hear your frustration on readers complaining about too many details--I struggle with this, too. I like your solution! It's a fresh take on writing something new. We are scary mind twins for our posts today, by the way. ;-)

Nicola said...

I've fallen into the same trap. I think a lot of authors do. Even the well established internationally acclaimed authors. I just read one of my favourite author's new thrillers and low and behold there was a ton of stuff on guns that I had no interest in whatsoever. It detracted from the story and I'm sorry to say I skipped those pages. Reading a lot does help with 'not what to do', I think.

Have a fab and productive March :)

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

There's definitely a balance between not enough info and too much info, but that's often different for everyone. Do what you think works! :)

Julie Flanders said...

I think it's funny that people complained about too much religion in a story about angels. What the heck?? I feel like I'm always writing about things I don't know and I just hope I don't get too many things wrong.

Tara Tyler R said...

sorry i've not been here in soooooo long!
i'm glad i read this post tho - and i call my research of such topics as - knowing just enough to be dangerous! sci fi is even easier to do that with because it's like magic, anything can happen in the future of technology!

hope all is well with you! happy hump day!

Pat Garcia said...

You know I think you have to balance both, what you know and what you don't know. However, more important than that is not letting your readers dominate what you think you should put in your book. You will always have some of your readers objecting because we all think and relate differently.
Good luck.
Shalom,
Patricia

Crystal Collier said...

Let's see... Have I written historical stories? Yup. About serial killers? Yup. About real life spies? Yup. I think my writing life is one CONSTANT study session. In fact, that's one thing I love most about writing--how often it pushes me to learn new things.

Chrys Fey said...

Ha! Now that's one way to defeat the problem. I write romantic-suspense, so I'm not even sure if this rule applies to me, but I like to share some information about my character's jobs. I've shared stuff about monster truck driving and self-defense in my upcoming novel. :)

Arlee Bird said...

I'd prefer to change that advice to "Write what you kind of know and do enough research to fill in the gaps of what you don't know." I don't think anyone needs to be an expert when writing fiction, but check facts to make sure you're not putting forth anything that is blatantly absurd. Someone will catch it and then the rest of the novel loses credibility to the point where everything in it will face more scrutiny. And then there is the willing suspension of disbelief factor. I have to do that in plenty of the movies I watch.

Arlee Bird
A to Z Challenge Co-host
Tossing It Out

Em-Musing said...

Hi - I'm a new follower by way of the IWSG. Great info on readers. I struggle with how much info to put into a chapter so as not to make the reader's eyes cross. My WIP is not "romance" but is women's fiction with lots of romantic elements, so thanks for the heads up on keeping the romance up front.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

LOL - yes! Especially with locations. I've been to every place in my series and knew it well enough to write without much research. I didn't overdo the description or details though.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I was nodding along while reading your post. I get some complaints in reviews for my space opera romance because there is too much science or there are battles. The protagonists can't be in bed all the time!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'm so bare bones with description and details, I get complaints that I don't do enough.

Charly Marlowe said...

I think it's brave to attempt what you don't know. If nothing else, you get the chance to learn about it.

Cherie Colyer said...

Interesting tactic, but I can see how that would work. Since I write YA, I run little risk of over informing the reading about a particular job. I have had to scale back information on some of the supernatural aspects, paring the details down to only what the reader needs to know. I rely on feedback from my critique groups to know when I have too much or not enough.

Loni Townsend said...

Heh! That's a good approach toward getting the info down. Me, I went that route without even realizing it. I don't know anything about landscaping, but that's what my character ended up as. :)

Juneta Key said...

Mmmm, "I don't know nothin bout birthing no" book. I worry about that, even with research, but yeah I write it anyway trying not to get too deep in something I know I know nothing about or not putting in enough information or getting it right.

Juneta @ Writer's Gambit

s/v La Vita said...

I write about events that happen in my life. I'll add a bit of romantic tease just to keep the interest of the reader.

I'm branching out into fiction and the question of research comes up. I would like the story line to be credible. In the first draft, I don't know what I don't know until I get there. Interesting concept. I'll consider your POV. Thanks

Carrie-Anne said...

It's disappointing but not surprising to hear some of your readers don't want anything but pure romance. So long as other aspects of the story don't overwhelm the main plot(s) and don't bog down the overall story, there shouldn't be any reason to dislike them. Then again, I love super-long books that are at least 500 pages.

I basically have to research everything I write, so I can portray everything and everyone as accurately as possible. It's embarrassing to read back on some of my oldest drafts and see how very little I actually knew about certain things I was writing about.

Jemima Pett said...

I know that reading my self-editing bible I was painfully reminded I shouldn't write everything I know into the book just to show how clever I am/how much research I've done. But a writer does need to show that the character knows what they're talking about. So as long as your lawyer acts like a lawyer in love (or not), who cares about the rest? :) Maybe you just need to know a lawyer?

Sounds fun, anyway!

Cathrina Constantine said...

I believe in 'write what you know' goes just so far. I don't believe we'd have Star Trek, or Star Wars, or even all the vamp, werewolf, and fantasy books if people didn't write way outside the box.

Romance is tricky, and I had a chuckle about what you wrote. I enjoy reading the details, but everyone has their own opinions. I tend to overindulge in visualization, like my world building or a characters looks, and I've learned to cut back.

I wrote about an exorcism, which I really know very little about except what I've seen in the movies. And I did very little research. I hope it works...

You're a great writer, I'm sure you'll do just fine with your new project.

Feather Stone said...

Do people in general just like to criticize? About nothing? Sometimes I wonder if I should be more motivated to please. You know, more sex, more humor, more whatever. In both The Guardian's Wildchild and Forbidden I had to do a lot of research. Most of it never landed on the pages as the information only served to help me understand the culture or the hierarchy. Yes, I think writers can go too far with background stuff. But no matter how hard we hunt for the right balance, we will get complaints. It's just human nature. Write on, my dear friend. Blessings.