One of the first rules in writing is, WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW. It makes sense, but sometimes I feel inhibited by that. I mean, think about what makes a good story. High drama, with a dash of trouble and a dose of fear. When a character is struggling and his/her life goes from bad to worse, you’ve got a thrilling page-turner and better yet, a best seller.
So, from a literary perspective, I guess you could say my life is boring. If I adhere strictly to the “write what you know” rule, I could fill pages upon pages with lackluster tidbits and mind-numbing compositions that nobody would care to read. In order to write a spine-tingling novel do I have to immerse myself in international intrigue, drugs, kidnappings, and other violent pursuits or is there another way?
Because I write for children I try to think back to difficult times from my own childhood. I stop and reflect, looking for the juiciest bits of scandal I can recall, and I hate to say it, but I usually come up empty. Unfortunately, I had a good childhood. No major beatings, no divorce, no illness, no deaths no life altering anything. (Thank the Good Lord) So how can I possibly write what I know when I obviously know nothing?
So I must make do with what I have. I draw from the resources I’ve been given. My life. My wonderful, run-of-the-mill, all-American childhood. A childhood I would never give up or trade. Yet, a childhood I can totally destroy on the pages of a book! Yes, you read it right, I said destroy. I can find the anguish and suspense to fill the pages of a story by throwing a wrench into my own happy memories.
Here’s an example: When I was five I had a cat named Alphabets O’Malley, who loved mac and cheese. I begged my parents to let me have that cat and when they finally relented, Alphie and I lived happily together, sharing spoonfuls of mac and cheese, for the next thirteen years. But, by throwing a wrench into this memory, I can come up with a more exciting plot twist.
Here’s what I mean: Within days of Alphie’s adoption, he got hit by a car and died in my arms. But that was not the end. His little kitty ghost roamed the neighborhood stealing boxes of mac and cheese. Eventually, the whole town became mac and cheeseless. Little children cried for their favorite pasta to no avail. I had to stop my poor misguided feline phantom from seizing the world’s mac and cheese supply!
Now I’ll admit, I might have gone a little overboard in the imagination department with this one, but I think you’ll agree, nobody but me could write that story. I was the little girl who shared her mac and cheese with a beloved pet. Therefore, only I know how it would have felt to lose him so soon. Only I can truly show how passionate Alphie was for cheese-smothered noodles because I was the one who knew him best. As ridiculous as my story may sound, I’m the only one who can really explain the terror of it. Because, had it really gone down that way, I know how deeply I would have been affected.
So there you have it. Write what you know. I know my life isn’t storybook material. But, as a fiction writer, a good wrench can turn any existence into an electrifying journey. Give it a shot.