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Battlecruiser HMS Divorce with Mark IV Shrill Spouse Torpedoes

October 21, 2008  Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: The Craft   2 Comments

As an unpublished novelist, I am careful when dispensing writing advice. What would I know, anyway? There is some advice, however, that is spectacular in its mediocrity: sub-standard writing advice that is like watching a rabid chipmunk and a flying squirrel on crank mating on your keyboard while alternately squeaking and grunting a Bach fugue in D minor. It is bad and hard to miss. The age-old adage “write what you know” makes me want to take a screwdriver and stab myself repeatedly with it, hoping the pain will take away the vision and sounds of the terrible scene before me.

I will pull out a common American cultural occurrence as an example: divorce. I married in my twenties and today I am, um, older. Yes. Let us just say “older,” shall we? Thank you. In March, I will be married fifteen years (I love you Honey!).

While I am a child of divorced parents, I only have personal experience with marital breakups in the context of a child’s eyes. In other words, sitting on the sidelines, a spectator not a participant—breaking up from the love of your life, indeed, the mother of one’s children is unfathomable. My brain just cannot go there—on a personal level.

How can I write about something so foreign to me? I can claim to have seen it up close, but not experience it. The question becomes, why? Why would I?

Why indeed. Take a lot around at the society we live in. Divorce is common. If wrote a modern tale of living in contemporary society, and the characters in my world live in an insular segment of America where the divorced are less common, this novel would be like science fiction. I might as well have been writing about getting into a space ship and breaking the laws of physics by traveling Faster Than Light. There are many people who do this and are good at it, and that is my point. If you are going to envision the Battlecruiser HMS Divorce with Mark IV Shrill Spouse Torpedoes (TM), you had better examine your world with a critical eye. You have to leave your comfort-zone and put yourself in the unfamiliar.

That, my 8.3 readers, is the why. In a Young Adult novel under contemplation, the main character’s parents are divorced. I can write about this in the context of my own experience, but as soon as her parents step into the story, I have to translate my observations of the world not familiar. I could cheat and make life a bed of roses for our main character, but should I?

This is where the honesty comes into play. Do not write about what you know; write what you are passionate about. As fiction writers, we have to write about what we do not know, and that, my friends, is difficult. It takes observation, analytics, critical thinking and empathy. If you are not observant, analytical, contemplative and empathetic, then your writing is flat. You have described a Divorce Going FTL, without the thinking necessary to make it believable. It made no sense, and why it made no sense was not obvious. Life does not always come with humping rodents on your keyboard waving placards. Write what you don’t know. I dare you!

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2 comments on: Battlecruiser HMS Divorce with Mark IV Shrill Spouse Torpedoes

  1. Anthony October 21, 2008 at 5:43 pm

    Ah ah ah, not swearing a stylistic choice. I believe you are in the woods looking at a tree and not taking in the forest of my post.

    I am using YA only as a comparison because both my unfinished novels are YA. The unfamiliar is the fiction writer’s bailiwick, but my advice is not to limit oneself to intimate areas. It what is not intimate, that is the killer.

    The point is not what standards one adheres to, but what makes the story flat because the writer went to describe something not without actually contemplating how that something actually is because the advice given is “write what you know.” I emphatically assert this goes beyond characterization. I am talking plotting and voice, setting and even atmosphere.

    Feel free to leave any length of comment your heart desires. That is what this blog is here for, after all.

  2. Anthony October 22, 2008 at 8:51 am

    Actually, I just put in a scene composed of someone taking care of a baby. It was endearing, as it was interesting.

    Then it breaks your heart. In pieces.

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