Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Writing what you know

Current Project: Derby book
Status: Chugging along. Thesis is taking top priority.

I was recently asked by a writer I met at the RCRW Reader's Luncheon why I don't write archaeology books.


I hadn't really thought about it before. It's a good question though, I'm studying to be an archaeologist after all. It's certainly not because it lacks interest for me. It's not for a lack of ideas either, there are zillions of interesting cultures and artifacts that could be the basis for stories. So why don't I write about them? My reactionary answer was that I can't suspend my disbelief. I came across this when I tried to write a book with Greek and Egyptian mythology a few years ago. I was too wrapped up in the facts, or at least history as we know and expect it. I couldn't, and probably still can't, get myself to take a general idea, myth or artifact and twist things a bit for my own world building.

I think it's the same with archaeology. Let's say I want to write a story about an archaeological find in southern Italy, I don't think I'd be able to take liberties with what I've learned about the area. I'm too much in a box. Maybe it's because it is such a technical area. But there are cops who can write cop fiction and I'm writing a roller derby book. I don't know, analyzing this about myself is taking too much brain power. Maybe it just isn't meant to be in my fiction arsenal.

There have been a few ways I've been involved with archaeology fiction and it's been most enjoyable. I'm sure Eli has wanted to strangle me a few times with my responses to her archaeology questions. Over a year ago she wrote a proposal for a Central American archaeology book, which is currently out to publishers (I believe). We did a lot of brainstorming over what is believable for an archaeologist to do, what an archaeologist would actually be involved in, etc. It was a lot of fun, being able to think about someone else's book. I've enjoyed doing some recent brainstorming with Paty on an archaeology book as well.

Maybe someday things will fall into place and I'll be smart enough to learn how to suspend disbelief. I can watch CSI, why can't I write archaeology?!? Do you write what you know, either through hobbies or day job, or do you tend to write what you want to know more about?


Elisabeth Naughton said...

Strangle you? Only a few times. LOL

I don't write what I was "trained" in either. Books about teachers bore me to death. And though I enjoy YAs here and there, I can't seem to get into them as much as others. Probably because I spent so much time immersed in that age when I was teaching. I don't know...so much of the YAs I read just don't strike me as "real", you know? I guess it's the same thing you're dealing with in regards to the archaeological aspect.

So no, I don't write what I "know". I write what I want to know. That's how I stay interested in the books I'm writing. Topics that pique my interest are the ones I know I'm going to enjoy researching for the long haul of a book.

Great topic, Lisa! And I'm so glad I have you as my research go-to girl. ;)

Paty Jager said...

I write about what interests me. History of the Americas. That I happen to live in the west and write about it are good coincidences.

However, it is my interest in Native cultures sparked the book I'm working on now. And I appreciate your answers to my questions.

In a way you write about what interests you too, Lisa. Roller derby, cards. It seems when you are into a new hobby you start a book about it.

Deborah Wright said...

I, too, write about what interests me and I also have a hard time writing about things I know too much about. You don't see me writing about computers, do you? Why? Because it would be b-o-r-i-n-g! I'm afraid any story I wrote that had anything to do with computers as a major plot point would end up reading like a technical manual.

So many of the ideas and theories of physics fascinate me -- and inspire crazy story ideas. There's no way I'd ever claim to be any kind of physicist, but maybe it's easier for me to twist the physics because I'm just a fascinated onlooker.

Alice Sharpe said...

I'm not an expert on anything so I don't know about this. I know a bit about sailing, or used to, but enough that it intimidated or discouraged me. The problem gets to be romance editors weren't interested in sailboat books because readers weren't. I wrote a couple and they were fun.

But I do agree that writing about something that fascinates you is the way to get through the research. And there are some people who do write within their discipline -- maybe many, but one who comes to mind is Aaron Elkins who writes a character who is a forensic anthropologist and that is his training as well. Lawyers do it all the time. Perhaps that's because things aren't quite as black and white as they are in science.

I do not like writing about things that bore me. Ack. Neat blog.

Genene Valleau said...

"Do you write what you know ... or do you tend to write what you want to know more about?" Both of these and whatever else my characters toss at me.

Most of my stories end up with pets in them--many of them dogs. And I've had a bit of experience with dogs. :) In addition, 20+ years of working in social services plus personal experiences with such traumas as child abuse, domestic violence, and addictions has provided a never-ending supply of ideas for books.

On the other hand, my characters usually come up with interests or hobbies that I know little about (like astronomy or arson investigations) that send me scrambling for facts part way through a story.

But I also have some obvious areas of interest and expertise that I haven't written about. Like you, Lisa, I'm not sure why.

Interesting post to ponder!

Katie said...

Oh, I totally write what I want to know more about! My characters are always into cars and racing, and while I like both those things, I know squat about them. Same with history. I don't have a perfect, structured timeline in my head of certain time periods, but I love to read historical and I'm always thinking of ideas set in the past. It's definitely something I want to know more about.

But it's true about it being hard to write what you know. I've tried multiple times to make my characters the same religion as me, but it never works. My plots are such that the characters would never make the choices that would carry the story. It's hard to have religion in a fantasy or a sci-fi. I know too much about my religion that it would bog down the story. I have strong beliefs, but it's just not conducive to put it in a book the way it would need to be.

And btw, archeology is awesome!