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Write what you Know

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Author: Michael Bard

Yes, I know that every writing course in existence -- every book, every essay, every website -- tells you this ad nauseum. Even though this advice is overused, there is some truth to it. Let me give you an example.

A friend showed me a story they were working on. It was just the first couple of pages, and was the basic setup for a Xanadu story. Nothing bad about it, but nothing great either. And yet, it stood out very, very strongly in my mind.

Why, you ask? Or maybe you don't ask -- but I'm going to tell you anyway. It's really quite simple: In the story they describe a convoy of like-minded convention goers. Just a few paragraphs, but the organization, the snippets of speech, the chatter back and forth, all rang a chord of realism in me. I asked the writer, and, yes, they had been in such convoys in real life. They thought the description was nothing much, just a typical event. But to me, it was something new and wondrous.

What does this mean?

First off, it must be acknowledged that pretty well none of us TF writers have ever actually transformed. Most of us haven't hunted for food with our teeth and claws, smelled the scent of blood in the water, or trotted up a hill on our own hooves. Nor, sadly, are any of us likely to in the near future. All we can do in this case is read, research, dream, and imagine it. Sadly, this means that it will never quite have the ring of truth; it's hard to imagine all the little bells and whistles and effects of a major physical change. All we can do is the best we can.

But, what we can do is get the other stuff right. The little boring bits that make up each of our lives. The things that we've done, and never noticed even though we do them every day. The things that others haven't done.

The things that, when written well and vividly, make it all come alive in the readers mind.

So, yes, the badly overused phrase in the title is useful, but the limits of its usefulness need to be understood. In other words, try to include things that you do regularly, or have even done just occasionally, or even once, as events in what you write. And, when you do include them, remember what the experience looked like, smelled like, felt like. Make it live for the rest of us -- and the transformation will vibrate through our consciousness.