Most writers are familiar with the saying: Write what you know. It's tossed around all the time, almost religiously, really. While there does need to be some knowledge behind what we write, especially to make feelings and motivations authentic, I think it's impossible to know everything, no matter how many people call you a know-it-all. For example, if you're writing a novel about demons and angels, which happens to be ever-so popular right now, there isn't any way you can know what a demon or angel is thinking, what heaven is like or how it feels to have wings sprout on your back. Sure, you can imagine it, if you're creative enough, but you don't know.
That said, if you're writing a book about Gabriel, the Archangel who typically serves as a messenger to humans from God, then you better do some research. You want to get his basic details right. I mean, you don't want to come across as an uninformed sloth to your readers. There really is no excuse for laziness and, as any writer can tell you, penning a novel requires a certain amount of research. It's why authors have seven tabs open on their browser when they're writing a book. Okay, okay, two of those are Facebook and Twitter.
From my experience, people don't just decide to write about something they have no clue about. The truth is, we often create stories based off things that interest us, things we care about. Which leads me into what I want to talk about today. We draw from our own experiences. And, in truth, we draw from other people's experiences.
See, this is where I get a little bit lost. What isn't clear to me is how much of our own lives we can filter into our novels, and how much of other people's? I suppose what I am asking is, how much is too much? And where do we draw the line? Of course, I'm not an utter fool, I know enough to at least change the names.
But, all jokes aside, I've been thinking about this lately because I have an idea for a book that touches on a few things very personal to me. And, while they are in fact my experiences, they are also someone else's. Now, I don't plan on writing out our interactions verbatim. Actually, I don't plan on writing them out at all. It isn't the actual events I will be using, but the feelings, thoughts and motivations behind them. Still, I've been mulling over whether or not it is appropriate to use real life in our work.
While on one hand, I think it's inevitable. After all, we are inspired by the people around us and the things we witness. I also think it's a bit rude to do so. Then again, memoirs are very popular and, even though they are one person's account of their life, they also shed light on all the players in that person's life. What's the difference then? You can write a story about your life, detailing events from the people's lives around you, and call it a memoir, so why not base your novel off real life occurrences and call it fiction?
In some ways, writing about real things makes it more authentic. Then again, you're less likely to alter the scene or story because you think it has to be one certain way.
Here's the thing, I've known a few writers who have put specific moments from other people's lives into their book. And a couple of them have been very private and revealing, to the point where, if the person read the book, they'd know it was their very personal moments. Yes, a couple of these writers have informed the others involved, in an effort to give them a heads up, but one or two have simply gone ahead and done it without warning the person, or asking permission.
It's sort of a conundrum from where I sit. In some ways, it feels like plagiarising someone's life. I mean, it's important to take into consideration our friends, family, lovers, both present and past, and their feelings. In the end, it all comes down to respect and affording other people the same consideration you yourself would like. If we think they'd be upset, pissed off or annoyed over something we wrote, then we probably shouldn't put it in a novel that could potentially become a best seller. (A girl can dream)
So, in conclusion, drawing from real life cannot be avoided, but we should do it respectfully.
Oh, and if we don't know something but want to write about it, research. If no other reason than to appear less numpty-ish.