Wednesday, 4 July 2012

What Do You KNow?

"Write about what you know." Something we’re all told. I was once running a creative writing class and someone miserably put up a hand and said she’d done nothing in her life worth writing about. I tried to explain that it meant she should use familiar things .. places, environments, working situations and so on. She said she lived in a very boring village in Cornwall where nothing ever happened. She was disbelieving when I suggested that Cornwall could sound attractive and even exotic to someone living in a town centre!
I write about Cornwall much of the time and my settings are very clear in my imagination. My recent one is actually the village where I live but with a number of modifications. Different name and different buildings but I know it intimately with the rocks on the beach down to the flora and fauna.
Writing about a setting that is credible, suggests that you know it. It is much easier these days to discover information about distant places with the Internet. Type in the name of almost anywhere in the world and information pops up. But to write about somewhere without any knowledge at all, means there may be inaccuracies and someone will always see the errors. No use describing an exotic location and setting your characters in a fish and chip restaurant. I’ve seen it done, believe me! I remember reading a story where the café had checked table cloths and candles in bottle had a ‘maitre de’ in full evening dress. When quoting the names of wine, you need to know it actually fits into the scenario you are painting. Easy to check names and prices on-line by looking at wine merchants or even supermarkets. Same with food. Check out hotel or restaurant menus for ideas. Cookery programmes also provide ideas for the intimate dinner party at home. I find meals a perfect opportunity for intimate chats and progressing the story.
To me, accuracy is vital for the credibility of a story. I heard a play by the great Daphne du Maurier the other night ... set in 1645 era, someone offered to make a nice cup of tea. And she had daffodils coming into bloom in late May. Perhaps it was a bad winter. Her distances left much to be desired too. People could travel from one end of Cornwall to another before lunch and on horseback. Maybe the roads weren’t so busy! Bit sad maybe, but it spoils it for me.
I have a collection of very ‘useful’ friends who always seem willing to help check a point. Medical stories can be difficult if you have little idea of procedures so I have a GP, a surgeon, midwife and even a pathologist I can ask. Simply reading may not always be enough to make it convincing so someone to ask can be helpful. It’s the detail that makes it real.
Having said all of that, obviously, you don’t have to experience everything you write about. Murder? Fantasy? Space Travel? ... and many more. But it’s easier to base things on experience and let the writer’s imagination make it a story!

The picture is my next ‘My Weekly’ ... coming out next week!

‘Double Deception’ is promised to be in the goody bag for those attending the RNA conference.


  1. Great advice Chrissie - there's a big difference between having to 'know' something personally and being able to write as if you do! Love the look of your new pocket novel - an intriguing cover and title.

  2. Thanks for the sound advice - I'm sure that play must have annoyed many writers! Love the sound of your new pocket novel and I'm going to the conference - yay!

  3. I totally agree about researching facts carefully before writing. Nothing pulls one out of a good read faster than a glaring error. The skill is in knowing when to stop researching and when to start writing!! Love the cover, Chrissie and I'm looking forward to reading it.

  4. The My Weekly new style covers are lovely aren't they? This looks like a great read Chrissie. You're lucky having some medical contacts. The only specialists I know are a physicist who worked on the large hadron collider thingy (don't even know what that is & never can understand what she's working on), a social worker and a musician. Wish I knew some medics!

  5. Lots of good advice there, Chrissie. Looking forward to your pocket novel.

  6. Thanks for your comments.
    Cara .. I'm smiling at your hadron collider expert. Quite a challenge to fit that into a romance!! Mind you, remove the galsses and the hair clip and it's a case 'Why Miss .... you're beautiful'!
    Glad you like the cover of the new one and hope you enjoy it!

  7. I love your pocket novels, Chrissie, especially the Cornish ones, and these two latest look very enticing.
    Some great advice in this post. You’re right about attention to detail and scrupulous accuracy being essential to the credibility of any writing. We underestimate the intelligence and knowledge of our readers at our peril.
    Re that local play – Did Daphne really get her facts wrong, or was it a bit of dramatic licence from the production team? I remember the BBC’s wonderful Poldark series where characters were able to cover vast distances on foot across wild moors i.e. from Pendeen, near Lands End to Truro and back before lunch. But then, Cornwall is a truly magical land. Rx