Write what you know – or don’t
By Allan Leverone
That’s the conventional wisdom, the advice agents and publishers and others in the know dispense to those of us crazy enough or deluded enough to try making stuff up for other people’s entertainment. “How can I convince people to take my work seriously and maybe even get published?”
“Write what you know.”
The problem with that theory, though, seems pretty self-evident, at least to me. No one knows enough about everything to write a book off the top of their head. Sure, I’m an air traffic controller, and I wrote an aviation thriller. The air traffic control sequences and the aviation aspect in general posed little problem, that much is true.
But I’m not a terrorist, I know next to nothing about weapons, either large or small. I’ve never been to Arizona, where some of the action in FINAL VECTOR takes place, nor have I been aboard Air Force One. I’ve been to Washington, D.C. a few times, but never to the Pentagon. I’ve been to Hull, Massachusetts, a beautiful little town, but the Hull marsh I write about in FINAL VECTOR does not exist, at least as far as I know.
So when the experts tell you to write what you know, it’s really not that simple. Sure, cops and ex-cops write police procedurals, lawyers write courtroom dramas, ex-CIA guys write spy thrillers, but my opinion is that with enough research, anyone could write an aviation thriller or a police procedural or a courtroom drama.
What those people “in the know” really mean when they tell you to write what you know is that it’s easier and more effective to market an aviation thriller written by a pilot or controller, or a police procedural written by a cop, or a spy thriller written by an ex-CIA agent, than by just some guy off the street.
People love experts, which is understandable. It’s kind of a cool feeling, as a reader, to get an authentic glimpse into a world we know nothing about. But as a writer it’s just not necessary. Enough research can make a guy who has never been a cop write like one, or a guy who’s never been an air traffic controller write like one.
What’s funny about that is FINAL VECTOR isn’t the first novel I wrote, it’s the third. But it is the first novel I sold, and the other two were completely unrelated to aviation or to air traffic control. So in that sense, I guess the people “in the know” were right on the money. My aviation thriller sold, my other two manuscripts did not.
Hmm. This writing business is really a head-scratcher.