Every writer is familiar with the advice to ‘write what you know’. We all approach it differently. Some take it literally, basing their stories on personal experiences and nothing else; we all remember how Anne Shirley became a published author once she started writing about everyday life in her beloved Avonlea. Some completely ignore it. How many of us are international spies, really – and how much would we miss if we didn’t have books that have no bearing in the author’s reality.
But most choose an approach that has a little of both. We may not have personal experience of what it feels like to run for our lives, but we have most likely been scared and frightened, and can use the emotions to describe how a spy would feel in a life-threatening situation. Or we write about being a parent without having children ourselves, basing it on observations and emotions similar to parents’ love – or frustration.
The rest is research. How exhaustive it is and how much of it actually ends in the book, is up to each author. I’ve spent hours researching details of period dresses, only to end up describing them as ‘green muslin’ or something equally vague. I’ve read books where the author’s love for details transports me to another world like I were there – or ruin the reading experience with the excess of them.
Either way, the research part of writing can take up a lot of time, and if much of it isn’t used, it may feel like a waste of time. It seldom is.
I have another approach too. I keep my eyes open for interesting details, titbits and news. Internet is full of wonderful things and as I follow all kinds of people on social media, they come to my way without any effort on my part. Much of what I end up using in my books comes from news sources and long-reads. In The Croaking Raven, I used what I had read about human trafficking over the years; that’s what gave me the idea for the book in the first place. I ended up doing very little research for the sake of research. Everything I needed was sent my way.
The same happened with A Warrior For a Wolf. A paranormal romance isn’t the kind of book that necessary needs extensive background work, but I had learned all sorts of little details that came in handy. I’ve read many articles about building the Crossrail tunnel in central London, mostly from archaeological news that have nothing to do with my book. So when a scene happened to take place in a park that is currently closed because of the tunnel – which I also learned from a news article – I used it in my book. It’ll be old news in a couple of years, but for now, I found it an interesting detail to add. I also used tiny details of what it’s like to be a female surgeon in a British hospital that I learned by chance from an opinion piece.
Keeping my eyes open broadens my horizons, helps me to come up with writing ideas, and cuts the time I use on research. It can help you too. The world is full of people who want to share their experiences. All you have to do is to listen.
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In a piece of my own news: A Warrior For a Wolf is now out. You can get it on Amazon.