Hello, Friends and Followers welcome. Thank you for visiting last week for my Halloween blog. Today we have a very special guest – Sandra Gerth aka Jae. Let’s all give her a warm welcome.
When I thought about a topic to blog about, one thing immediately came to mind: one of the few popular pieces of writing advice that I disagree with. Don’t worry; this is not going to be a post about the writing craft.
The popular piece of writing advice I’m talking about is the old adage “write what you know.”
I’ve seen that suggestion a lot in the weeks leading up to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), that crazy time in November when half a million writers worldwide are trying to write a 50,000-word novel in a month.
Don’t get me wrong; “write what you know” is not bad advice per se. Drawing on your own personal experience can certainly save you a lot of time because it doesn’t require endless hours of research, and that’s great, especially if you’re trying to write a novel in a month. Writing about things you have personally experienced can also lend a novel depth and authenticity. I hope I have done just that in my romance novel Paper Love, which is set in the city where I live.
But most of the time, I don’t stick to the “write what you already know” rule because it would bore me—and, more importantly, my readers—if I wrote only about things I know and have personally experienced. I don’t want to limit myself to describing settings I have traveled to or creating characters who share my job, my cultural background, and my hobbies. That would make my novels feel very repetitive.
So my personal rule is instead to write what I want to know. I call myself an “information junkie” because I love learning new things. I set my novels in places that fascinate me and give my characters jobs and hobbies I’m curious about. Research is an integral part of my writing process. I do a ton of it for each and every book I write. Over the years, I have learned some very interesting things:
When doing research for Heart Trouble, I found out why all the medical TV shows get it wrong when they shock a flatline. Conflict of Interest introduced me to police work and the US justice system, while Not the Marrying Kind taught me a lot about how to run a bakery or a flower shop. Just Physical gave me insight into the stunt business, and Damage Control introduced me to the world of actresses and publicists. For Backwards to Oregon, I had to find out what kind of underwear women wore in 1851 and what dangers they faced traveling the Oregon Trail. I got a new-found respect for stand-up comedians and how hard it is to write a comedy routine when I prepared to write The Roommate Arrangement.
The interesting little tidbits and facts aren’t what I love most about the research I’m doing, though. I love research because writing about things I don’t already know allows me to broaden my horizons and walk in other people’s shoes for a while. When conducting research for my novels, I have talked to people who are very different from me, with backgrounds and life experiences very different from my own.
For my new romance, The Roommate Arrangement, I found people who—like my main character, Rae—lost one eye and were willing to talk to me about how it affects their lives. They told me how difficult it is to navigate crowded areas and to drive at night because losing one eye means having no peripheral vision on one side, impaired depth perception, and poor night vision.
For people like Rae, the most difficult adjustment is having to ask for help and relying on others to do things she could once do herself. She struggles for an entire scene before she finally asks Steph, the other main character, to drive her to an appointment with her ocularist. Luckily, Steph makes it easy for her to ask by making it sound like a fun road trip, not like a burden.
Rae is also constantly wondering whether people can tell her left eye is a prosthetic one, and her insecurities made her even more of a recluse than she was before. The thought of her prosthesis accidentally slipping and anyone seeing her with her eye out is her worst nightmare. But over the course of the book, Rae learns to let Steph in, to trust her, first as a roommate and friend, then as her partner, and to make herself vulnerable in front of her.
So you can probably see that the most important aspect of my research isn’t about facts; it’s about the emotional experience that goes along with those facts.
As I write this, something just occurred to me: Maybe I do write what I know after all. Because as a former psychologist and a human being, I know two things very well: emotions and interpersonal relationships.
That insight certainly makes it easier to tackle topics that I don’t have any personal experience with. I might not know what it’s like to lose an eye like Rae, live with multiple sclerosis like Jill in Just Physical, survive an earthquake like Kate and Giuliana in Shaken to the Core, or come from a big, meddling Persian-American family in Heart Trouble, but I have experienced emotions such as fear, embarrassment, insecurity, anger, pride, gratefulness, and love. I use my own experiences to put myself in my characters’ shoes and describe their lives in a way that, hopefully, feels authentic, even though, strictly speaking, it isn’t.
I hope when you’re reading my books, you enjoy both parts of the experience: reading about emotions you know and about backgrounds and circumstances you don’t know.
Jae’s website: https://jae-fiction.com
Thank you for stopping by today. Jae’s books are also available on Amazon. Be sure to come by next week when Claire Highton-Stevenson will be our guest.
Until Next Time,
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