Monday, April 6, 2009

Write about what you know

OK, slept well, glands going down, brain semi-funtioning, let's dooooo it.

A little while ago I read a book written by a well known American author, whose work I greatly admire. He is a far better writer than I.

I enjoyed the book as a story. However, the author had overreached himself. He had set the story in the middle of the 20thC and his primary POV characters were upper-class Englishmen. He had the basic historical facts right but wrote them as 21stC Americans. They think in a composite of British and America English - automobiles for example.

The characters have 21stC American politics. The civil servants are scared of 'The Liberals' taking office. That one had me flummoxed. The Liberal Party had no chance of winning an election in the 1940s or 50s. Then I realised he meant The Labour Party, who were socialists, not liberals. There is a difference. Besides, why would senior civil servants want The Conservative Party to win an election? British civil servants of this period were not neo-cons.

It is difficult to write a book out of your cultural perspective. I would have problems writing a book with 1950s upper class Englishmen as my POV characters.

There is an old saying - write about what you know. You will be far more convincing. Agatha Christie's stories are not about detectives but about the foibles of upper-middle class southern English families of a certain era.


PS The pic is of Faversham Creek on the North Kent marshes at Harty Ferry


Rowena Cory Daniells said...

That's why I like writing fantasy. As long as I'm consistent, no one can pick holes in my world building!

Ori Pomerantz said...

Glad you're feeling better.

It's not about writing what you know, it's about writing what you know as well as anybody else.

Temple of Thorns may have mistakes in it as glaring as calling the Labour party the Liberals. But so what? Very few Homeric heroes are alive today (thank God!), so it won't harm anybody's enjoyment of the book.

John Lambshead said...

Dear Rowena
You only think building your own world is easy because you do it so well. It brings entirely new problems.

John Lambshead said...

Dear Ori,
Yah, if you get caught with AK47's in the plot, you're in trouble as a writer. :)

Ori Pomerantz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ori Pomerantz said...

I noticed that most authors I like took up writing as a second career, after they've had tremendous experience doing something else. Maybe it's because they know more things at that point.

Maybe in 20 years' time I'll be able to write good fiction. For now, I'll probably stick with technical writing and hope that my works are not fictional ;-).