The Shining Ones · Writing

Write What You Know: Things I’ve Written that I Don’t Know

I’m up to my red eyeballs with editing and proofing The Shining Ones – putting commas in and taking them out again – so here’s a short post about things I’ve never done. (And my eyes really are red! The heating is back on and they’re not happy about it, and staring at a computer screen all day doesn’t help.)

Anyway, writers are often told: Write what you know.

It seems reasonable until you think about it. If I only write about what I know, I’m going to be stuck with a very small range of subjects and experiences. All my characters will look and sound like me, and my stories will be the most boring stories ever written.

Research helps to fill in the gaps, but it can only take you so far, especially when you’re writing fantasy or science fiction.

Imagination is the key to making it work, but that has to be grounded in something real. In other words, it has to be believable and relatable. You can draw on your own experience and then stretch it as far as you dare.

Not everyone will follow you on your flights of fancy. Some readers avoid anything that smacks too much of fantasy or unreality – I’m not sure why. Reality seems to be enough for them.

Reality was never enough for me. Maybe that’s why I became a writer – too much going on inside my head and I had to put it somewhere.

So with that in mind, here’s ten things I haven’t done but have written about. They’re all things that happen in The Shining Ones, and there’s a couple that I’d love to try…

I would love to do this (sitting down – not pulling the thing, obviously!) These are your actual Greenland huskies in actual Greenland (as featured in the book!) – where I’ve never been…

I have never:

  1. Stood on a glacier
  2. Abseiled into a cave
  3. Flown in a private jet
  4. Shot a man in the back
  5. Escaped from a predator drone on a sledge pulled by huskies (spoiler!)
  6. Driven around Scotland on a motorbike
  7. Broken into someone’s house (not strictly true, don’t ask)
  8. Passed myself off as my mother (although I was once mistaken for her by a relative, don’t ask)
  9. Travelled the angel highway (with or without angelic assistance)
  10. Seen a pigeon transform into a woman (or vice versa)

I’ve avoided spoilers, mostly – there’s many more crazy happenings in the book. If you’d like to read a version of the scene mentioned at 10 on this list, go here: first chapter extract.

Hopefully, by next week I’ll have finished torturing the manuscript into shape and we’ll be ready to tackle writing the blurb and designing the cover…

Until then, what have you written that you know nothing about?

Image: Huskies

19 thoughts on “Write What You Know: Things I’ve Written that I Don’t Know

  1. I disagree. Research does a lot if you stick with it and learn all you can. I did a moderate amount of research on Ancient China, and I think it may be sufficient to properly work in some of that history into one of my many stories. I have researched Egypt, dinosaurs, psychology, cruise ships… If I applied my research, I bet I could compose some good books.

    But, I am glad you touched on this as it recently crossed my mind, as well. I was going through some old comic book resources when I found an interview with Stan Lee of Marvel Comics who admitted he had very little to no scientific knowledge when he created characters like the Hulk. And, it struck me…he is writing what he does NOT know! And, he is making a success of his ignorance! He’s quite the salesman, so it seems he can do as he pleases. But, in all fairness, his lack of knowledge shows in some of the hokey books I’ve seen. I suspect the majority of readers are simply dazzled enough to ignore the questionable science.

    I have recently picked up an Elfquest volume and struggled to digest a good portion of it because the mixed authors have developed a sort of secret language (a lot of “wolfsong” and “sending”), similar to designing the world of the Hobbit/’Rings stories. It’s such an investment in originality that it is a bit overwhelming to process. It makes me think of that movie Cloud Atlas and the variety of languages used in different times. I get a lil lost in the “true true.”

    If I wrote everything in my head, I fear it would be a bleak result. As it stands, I see only certain ideas or philosophies as being something people either already grasp in hidden sectors or would find worth considering. A good portion of what runs through my head is downright depressing. I excel at writing about fear, but I don’t want to stoke those fires much.

    Not to get grammatically bitchy, but you mean here ARE ten things you never did but write into stories. 😛

    I don’t even know what abseiled means.

    3, 6, 9 and 10 have perked my interest. 🙂 But, most of the items, when put together, sound like a few Matthew Reilly books I managed to read. Or, an arctic Bond/Indiana Jones flick.

    I thought The Shining Ones had already been edited to death. I thought you were onto another story.

    I’ve written about a number of things I have inklings of hearsay/knowledge about. Most of the other concepts I tackle are rather imaginary and fairly original, at least, in twists. I am trying to think of something I wrote about that I haven’t, at least, researched a little. I guess I could count off a few items from your own list I haven’t done but written into stories, especially the private jet. I’ve used those a few times, and other forms of “elite transport.” I’ve never fired a gun, thrown a spear (other than maybe some stick I pretended was one), driven a motorcycle/sports car/jeep, piloted a plane, fought a dinosaur or any number of mythical creatures (or have I?)… I’ve never picked up a symbiote or befriended a woodland creature (though I try). I haven’t lived in most of the places I’ve written into stories, which has bothered me enough to make me seek out maps and try to, at least, write a logical layout of the neighborhood. But, that doesn’t feel sufficient, often.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, The Shining Ones has been edited to death but it came back to life and now I’m publishing it – and still editing those pesky typos, like the one you spotted here!

      I didn’t mean don’t do any research. I researched the hell out of all the subjects covered in The Shining Ones – like abseiling (descending a rock face using ropes, etc.). The point is, research only gets you the basics. I have no idea what it feels like to abseil down a cliff, for example. I can imagine a certain amount and I can read other people’s descriptions of what it feels like to them, but I don’t know.

      Google Earth is great for taking a look at places you’ve never been – but it doesn’t beat actually going there in person.


      1. I have abseiled into caves and, yeah Jess, I can’t imagine how you’d get a feel for it from research (Hints: The increasing smell of bat shit as you descend. The fact your eyes and light are directed upwards as you descend backwards. If you’re first down you’re relying on the accuracy of a map to avoid abseiling off the end of the ropes. You sometimes land on the bones of animals that have stumbled into the cave and off the cliff in the dark.).

        But how many potential readers know more about abseiling than they’ve seen on TV? Unless the story is meant to make an arcane point about abseiling I think a bit of research is probably all you need.

        If you ask me, the maxim “write what you know” applies to the central theme of the story, not the details. But some of the best books I’ve read are from authors writing what they know they don’t know, thereby highlighting an epistemological dilemma I may not otherwise have noticed. (e.g. The Matrix probably works best for those who have never asked themselves questions about empirical ‘reality’).

        Liked by 1 person

        1. An episodal– an epitipeptolbismal– A what dilemma? 😛

          I must not be a Super Seiyan or qualified member of MENSA to see what’s wrong with The Matrix movies. How do you two know how impossible or wrong they are when all I see is a fictional possibility for how the world we know could be controlled by aliens? Is everything an equation based on some ancient text? Jess broke down the Alien films not too long ago and made my brain hurt. 😛


        2. I didn’t say the Matrix was impossible or wrong. Just that it would have had more of an impact on those who’d never previously been inclined to ontological musings and never questioned whether their ‘reality’ might be virtual.

          Liked by 1 person

        3. I’m not the guy to ask. I hardly ever watch movies and haven’t seen the Matrix ones. I only know about them through the media and from my brother, who did makeup effects work on them (not kidding).

          I just used them as an example because I know the plot has the main character discovering he lives in a virtual reality. I suspect a lot of people considered that possibility long ago (there’s whole thought systems based on it after all) but those that haven’t would probably have seen the The Matrix as very imaginative and maybe even had their minds blown by it.


        4. Did we go over this before, you being a guy though your name is cabro-gal? Or, cab-rog-al.

          I was technically askin Jess how she would improve the movies…which I suppose she covered in that old blog entry.

          Hardly watch movies?? Whaaa?

          I saw all the Matrix movies except maybe the homemade ones. So, the trilogy and the anime hodgepodge of short films that was, at one time, bundled with either the first film or the trilogy. I thought the first one was kinda funny because Keanu looked like a joke right to the end. But, the story hooked me enough by the end, not the beginning, to see the next. I thought the villains in the second were impressive, but the story wasn’t much better. I reaaaally liked the woman in the white suit whose name slips my mind right now…oh, Monica Bellucci…rrrrawrh. 🙂 And, the third one was the real eye-opener with a tragic ending that kinda made you want to turn off your brain and die.

          Wait, what? Your brother worked on the films?? And, you never saw them.

          My mind was blown but I was both suspicious of my own reality and slightly discouraged by the story. There were a few details that sounded like code I did not understand, like watching an anime that uses computer/internet jargon…not quite hack/Sign but similar anime.


        5. Did we go over this before, you being a guy though your name is cabro-gal? Or, cab-rog-al.

          Read it and learn.

          Hardly watch movies?? Whaaa?

          As in I have no TV and haven’t been to the cinema since the early 80s.
          Of course I’ve had a few movies inflicted upon me during flights and bus trips but other than that I download maybe half a dozen movies a year and watch maybe three of them to the end.

          The very few I like I really like but mostly I find the time wasted watching movies would be better spent reading books. The special effects are better.

          Liked by 1 person

        6. No TV or movies…that has got to be an interesting lifestyle with some social group method of both entertaining and de-stressing yourself.

          Ugh, in-flight movies…

          Bus trip movies? I have never seen that, just lousy lil videos about how the bus system works and maybe job services.

          I don’t watch many movies per year myself…maybe two a month if I count those I catch on TV. Hard to say. I used to go to the theater almost monthly. Now, maybe three times a year, mainly because I have less interest in chancing a ticket price with the lousy varieties I am seeing. I used to see roughly one dud out of four.


        7. Books were never my friend til I needed something to take my mind off what’s been stressing me. However, a book, like a movie, works like scuba gear. Once you take it away/off, the pressures return. And, books, unlike movies, seem more straining to the eyes over time.


      2. Publishing on your own or you found someone to work with you?

        I’m a pretty good editor. 😀 But, the more I say that, the gods seem to curse me by making me find typos in works of my own that I thought were polished. I thought it was okay to have confidence but not to brag. I don’t brag…

        Just say you did plenty of research. That particular H expression is overused and senseless.

        Abseiling? Versus repelling? ‘Never heard of abseiling.

        I suppose a lack of real experience could weaken the read because readers wouldn’t get to feel as much like they were there in the moment. I’m sure there’s a way to fudge around that. But, so…so you can’t make every experience real to the Nth degree. Maybe you can minimize what you don’t know and expand on what you do, relate to the experience on a personal level, how would you respond if you were in __ position?

        Again, Stan Lee made a business, a small fortune, from composing stories and characters he didn’t fully understand though he claimed all were relate-able in some way.

        At least, with a mapping tool that can get satellite imagery, you can map out a location, if you want that much to be accurate in description. As it is, I don’t do that much and find myself either giving up writing because I can’t fathom designing a whole city or whittling a big city down to an odd little town just so I can almost grasp the parameters of all that goes on. I find myself torn between being vague and really working out the fine details so the read feels real.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Is it rappelling? Yeaaah, not a word I use regularly. 😛 I just have an audio file of Darkwing Duck stuck in my head where he tells his buddy Launchpad, “Repel! Repel!” And then he slams into a wall dug under the road.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I used to think that writing about what you know meant things you know about, things you can read and learn about (for research as you’ve mentioned. Even when I realized it probably means writing about things you know because you’ve felt them or experienced or observed them (first or secondhand), I thought it might be more useful to think of it as ….write about what you can imagine to be true (or real).

    Liked by 1 person


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