Saturday, February 26, 2011

If I Write What I Know, How is it Fantasy?

So, dear reader (forgive me, but I love books that address the reader this way), I've been thinking about the old adage "write what you know." On one level it's nonsense.  Or a recipe for navel gazing.  Taken to its logical extreme all writing would become a form of memoir. Or a technical manual.

But let's assume that whoever said it first wasn't a fool. Let's assume, for a minute, that it means something subtler than that. I think that "writing what you know" means that we should tap those reserves of experience that make us unique, that give us insight into the human condition, and translate them into imagined worlds, imagined people so that those people become real. This applies whether we're writing a gritty novel of love and hardship in the rust belt or a ripping space adventure set in the gas clouds of Setii V.  If that's what it means, then "write what you know" is the writer's version of method acting.

It's true, I am not now, nor have I ever been, a vermillion skinned lizard woman, trying to protect her collective's pod of youngsters from the acid mists that rise every evening. I'm not even a mom. But I have been a camp counselor - I know what it's like to usher a bunch of giggling, fast moving, semi-hysterical little girls through the woods at night. I know what it's like to fear for their safety. I also know what it's like to love them and want to strangle them at the same time. So maybe I know what that lizard woman is going through as she tries to find little Icz (who has disappeared again!) and tell everyone to keep all five of their limbs inside the land rover and stop little Icz (he was under the driver's seat) from telling everyone else in gruesome detail exactly what will happen if they don't get back to the pod house before the acid mists begin seeping out of the ground, all while not panicking herself because the land rover won't start.  

And with that, dear reader, you'll have to excuse me. I think I hear a story calling...