It is all very well to be able to write books, but can you wiggle your ears?
Here’s a question. Do you write for yourself, or for other people? I mostly write for myself. For my own amusement. For fun. For escape.
I’m only asking because one of those well-known writing mantras, right up there with show don’t tell, is write about what you know. But if you’re writing for your own entertainment then what the hell would be the point of that, exactly?
I don’t want to write about what I know. My life is mostly humdrum. Writing makes my life a bit more exciting, actually. It takes me to places that I can only imagine. It lets me do things I’ve never done. It makes me God.
Exponents of the write about what you know theory say that your work won’t ring true if you haven’t lived it, but I don’t think that’s true. Not in this day and age. Not when you can watch anything on youtube, and go anywhere on google streetview, and research anything on wikipedia. If your writing doesn’t ring true with all of those tools, then you probably just aren’t very empathetic. In fact you might be emotionally stunted. Or even psychopathic. Who knows?
Anyway, the point is that there’s nothing wrong with writing about places you’ve never been. Nothing wrong with making your character a truck driver even though you haven’t got your HGV licence. If you can imagine it, and write it, that’s fine.
All the same, when I started writing Charlie Lockhart, there was one thing I decided he wouldn’t do. He doesn’t kill people. I figured that escapism is all very well, but there is no way that I would shoot someone in the real world, so I didn’t want my character to do it either. No matter how bad the bad guys get. I hoped it would make him more believable as a character, too.
That one decision turned out to be the making of Lockhart. It made him fair, and real, and trustworthy and razor sharp – because it’s much harder to outwit someone when you can’t shoot them. You have to be a clever hero, and you have to be an inventive writer. The villains have to come to much stickier, more complicated, self-inflicted, utterly deserved, hugely satisfying gory deaths. Lockhart is a force for good. He’s rough and tough. He stops the bad guys in their tracks. But ultimately they’re the architects of their own destruction. It’s more beautiful that way.
So write what you know, or write what you don’t. It doesn’t matter to me. But either way, write something challenging, because the challenge will be the making of the character, and the writer.