Confession time: I may have spent a good portion of my free time (or all of my free time) last week watching the last couple seasons of Psych before it left Netflix on Friday night.
It was a glorious and ridiculous week. And it also got me thinking.
This one’s for you, Shawn Spencer.
For those of you unfamiliar with the show, it follows Shawn, an incredibly observant guy who finds work as a “psychic” detective, solving crimes and initiating shenanigans of epic proportions with his best friend, Gus.
How is this relevant to writing? Give me a second. I’m almost there.
Writing When You’re Not Qualified
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Write what you know.” It’s something that gets tossed around a lot, especially to writers who are just getting started. And it’s not bad advice. It’s a great place to start.
But what happens when you want to write about something you don’t have any personal knowledge of? This can run the gamut from dating relationships to detective work to sword fighting and how to run a magical boarding school, depending on what genre you write.
My advice when this comes up–and it will likely come up a lot–is to be like Shawn Spencer: use what you’ve got to start with, and then improvise!
Pretend Your Way into Being Qualified
*Important note: I do not endorse lying–especially to the police. I am talking specifically about writing fiction, which is almost entirely made up, anyway.
There are many ways to go about convincing your readers that you are an expert in whatever you’re writing about, and some are obviously more effective than others. Have you heard the phrase, “Fake it ’til you make it?” This is definitely helpful in writing–and psychic law enforcement.
In order to help your readers enter into and stay in your story world, I offer the following ways of pretending your way into being qualified:
3 Ways to Write Like You Know
We can’t realistically spend the time and money it would require to become masters of all the things we write about, so we’ll have to work smart.
1. Observe and collect clues
A great way to learn is to learn from the greats. Stay with me. By studying those who have gone before, you can discover a lot about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to writing in a believable way.
Watch your favorite movies and read books that showcase your topic well. Make note of how they did it, and why you believed them, and apply those techniques to your story.
2. Interview the insider
Maybe you’ve never shot a gun or trained for a triathlon (and you really don’t want to, because of your pacifism or your asthma), but your main characters do those things on a regular basis. Surely there are people around you who have experience in those areas.
Find a friend, family member, or acquaintance and ask them to describe the process, the feelings, and the other details of an activity that will make it come alive on the page.
3. Recreate the ‘scene’ yourself
This isn’t always an option, but it’s the surest way to write convincingly. Need to learn the basics of fencing or ballroom dance for your novel about a reality show competition?
Pick one thing to learn in a hands-on environment, then check with your local community college or parks & recreation department to see what kind of community learning classes they offer.
There will still be some pretending involved, but it’ll be enough to get you started. Plus, it’ll get you out of your writing cave, and you could come away with new skills and even a few new friends!
What have you done in order to write like you know?
Dana signing off to go do some detective work. And maybe eat some pineapple. 😉