Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Write Well Wednesday: Know What You're Writing

This goes without saying, but I'm saying it anyway because people still seem to mess it up!  There's a reason why we tell writers to write what they know...Because it's more real to a reader if you write what you're familiar with. 

If you write about someone who rides horses, but you've never been near a horse or bothered to do research, you're going to come off sounding like an idiot.  For example, horses have hooves, not feet.  Anyone who has spent five minutes caring about horses should know that.  So, therefore; your horseback rider should think and talk about the horse's hooves, not the feet.  Anatomy is only a small part of it.  You should be familiar with simple ritual barn acts such as mucking stalls, picking hooves, and grooming procedures.  You should know the tools and the tack, the structure of the barn, the scents and sounds of a barn.  Does the character ride Western, English, Hunt Seat, Dressage?  What breed is the horse?  That will impact the horse's temperament.  If you get a chance, you should take some riding lessons.  This will help you understand gait, riding posture, and the horse's behavior.  Don't just assume that because you've watched a couple of westerns that you know what you are talking about!

The horse thing is just a sample!  This goes for anything.  Wine, yachting, cars.  If your character drives a '08 Dodge Caravan, you should know what one looks like inside, feels like/sounds like when driven.  You should know if it's standard or automatic.  You should know if it has any model flaws. 

Simple things like this can enrich a story beyond simply writing dialogue and describing the character's bedroom.  Like with most pieces of literature, the final manuscript shouldn't include the bulk of the author's knowledge on the subject.  Just look at J.R.R. Tolkien!  You don't need to tell the reader everything you've learned to get your expertise across; if you really know what you are talking about then your familiarity with the subject should come out on it's own.