Here lies a man…
Sebastian Faulks didn’t fire a single shot during World War One. In fact, the lad hadn’t even been born. And yet he managed to dramatise the event with such authority that critics were astounded. But how does his achievement stand in the light of cold, hard writing advice?
We’re always told write about what you know. But does this mean avoid anything outside our personal experience? Absolutely not! Write about the things that compelled you to start in the first place. If you work in a shoe factory and spend all day dreaming about 1920’s Chicago, perhaps it’s time to start writing about Al Capone.
There are books, Internet sites, historians and afficianados waiting to supply you with facts. And when you’re ready, you can begin your master work, safe in the knowledge that you’ve ‘been there.’ You may not have sat in on one of old Scarface’s board meetings, but you’ll be able to describe his shoe leather to the nearest crease.
Fiction is about people not facts. Yes, you have to have a grasp of the scenery, but it’s the emotional content that counts. The writer’s job is to bring his characters to life in such a way that they live on in the reader’s memory for a long time after.