"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!