Is there true importance to writing what you know?

The age old adage says that authors should write what they know…if you’re trying to speak intelligently about a topic, it only makes sense to write about something you’re familiar with, right?

I’d say that’s not always true, but it often is.

For instance, in The Fog of Dreams (available via pre-order, to be released on August 17th!) I explore genetic engineering, the National Security Agency, and lots of transmogrify…what do I know about any of those topics?

Two things: Jack and Squat.  But, thanks to the wonders of the Internet novel research is no longer as ominous as it once was.  I spent a lot of time digging through online articles trying to make some sense of some very long words, and distill it into a functional narrative.  So in this case, I’d say, no you don’t have to write what you know.

But, think again.

My main character is a man named William Strickland.  He’s a former Special Forces soldier, and now works as a contract for-hire for the NSA.  These concepts are utterly foreign to me.  However, in Strickland’s off hours, he has a wife and two daughters and lives in a rural New England area.  Hmm… that sounds familiar.

At its core, in my mind, The Fog of Dreams isn’t truly about genetic engineering or the NSA.  Those are important elements of the story, obviously, but the core of the story is a man trying to do right by his family.  A man noticing his own faults and trying to get past them to improve the lives of his wife and daughters.  Once you boil it all down to that essential narrative drive, things start looking a lot more familiar.  And yes, I think that helps.  I can write Strickland with my own motivations in mind, with my own thoughts of the lengths I’d go through to protect my own loved ones.  That makes telling his story just a little bit easier, and yes, more satisfying.

So even mixed among all the complex concepts, genetic tech talk, and military jargon, the core of the story is something I  very much identify with, and that may be why it feels so important for me to tell it.

We’ll see what others think soon.


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