Monday, February 7, 2011

Helpful Hint #6: Write What you Know...Or Learn about it First

I have never been one to write about my own experiences for others to read. I've kept a journal off and on for years. But to share my own life? Too personal, too painful, or too boring.

So fiction is my form of escape. I leave my own world of daily grind and live in someone else's for a while. Creating characters, placing them in settings I would love to visit, and giving them problems to solve, delights me.

However...I have learned that "writing what you know" is important. May I give you an example?

When I began writing Second Chance I knew the characters and had a vague idea of the plot. I wanted my hero to be FBI agent, Ian Martin. I looked at the FBI website and investigated the types of cases in which they might be involved. It was a superficial study, to say the least.

I also knew I wanted my characters to leave the US during the course of their search. I chose Spain, to honor a friend of mine who read my chapters as soon as they were written. So my characters ended up flying to Lisbon, Spain, with the FBI agent to investigate the disappearance of their parents.

Now. If you haven't guessed what's wrong with this picture, allow me to point out two major problems:
1. Lisbon is not IN Spain.
2. The FBI doesn't have jurisdiction overseas.

Are you laughing yet? Obviously, I didn't do my research! Not only that, my friend (who grew up in Spain) kindly informed me that my scenes set in that country looked more like a suburb of Any Town, USA than Spain.

So. I hit the computer a little harder! I spent time researching Lisbon, Portugal, and surrounding cities, to make my description more authentic. As I researched, I fell in love with the landscape, the history, and the people. Portugal is now on my ever growing list of places I wish to visit some day.

To address the problem with the FBI and overseas, I tried making my hero into a CIA agent, but it just didn't sit well with me. So after further research, I found a loophole in which the FBI does work with overseas cases involving Americans. They still don't have jurisdiction and must deal with local police in that country or INTERPOL, but I could make that work. (After more research involving INTERPOL, of course. I had learned my lesson!)

My point? You don't have to draw from personal experience to write everything you write...but you better spend some time learning about your subject before hand. Otherwise you may end up with a mess like me! I continue to be thankful for good friends who knew the difference, and weren't afraid to question me! And I have learned that researching new topics for other stories can be fun:)

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