The age old advice: Write what you know. This comes into question frequently enough and the answer of whether or not this is true is “yes” with a “but.”
In the Game of Thrones series George R. R. Martin lived near an international shipping port and found it fascinating to learn the different flags of each ship traveling through. This comes to mind all the various scenes of flags or banners being highlighted to represent different houses in his books which are similar but yet, quite different than European coat of arms. But, I don’t believe he has ever met a dragon.
It is widely known J. K. Rowling took a very real life feeling of loneliness and depression transformed it into a soul eating creature called a Dementor in Harry Potter. She also might be a witch but it’s not likely.
Douglas Adams wrote a humorous story of Arthur Dent in Hitchhickers Guide and made the human species virtually extinct while questioning the meaning of life as nothing more than a trivial curiosity. That’s not such a far fetched idea from an out spoken atheist and environmentalist who focused his attention on endangered species preservation. But, he never had intergalactic space travels with or without a towel.
What each one of these authors did was took something they knew and transformed it into something creative. Let’s focus back on George R. R. Martin. Or GRRM for short. Each family is fighting over control of Westoros and they are all very clearly identified by their flag. It’s the major defining symbolism of each family and some have a lot of members to keep track of. GRRM could have picked any type of way to identify them but, he took something he knew would work. He took a real life image. A subject he is extremely familiar with. He used his knowledge of flags and their meaning to help the reader understand the political boundaries of an imaginary world. This imagery was so successful if you take one quick google of Game of Thrones you’ll find images of wolves, lions, stags, and dragons almost immediately. All of which represents the clear divide in houses. Even while I was reading the first book I could not pronounce Daenerys Targaryan until I watched the TV show. I could however, tell you her house banner was a dragon. These banners became something to root for, like a team mascot. Even now, you can go on amazon.com or thinkgeek.com and find your favorite house banner on a t-shirt or mug.
While those are some well known authors and stories, I’m going to bring the same thought process to the literary fiction novel I am currently reading called The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont.
I do not know much about this author. To be honest, this book was a random library find. The title caught my attention as I’ve mentioned previously, I enjoy being on boats, and after reading the jacket, the story caught my attention to check it out. As I’m reading I’m finding the main character is a sailor and very knowledgeable about being on water. While I’m not expert by any means, if this author was faking her knowledge I would know. I don’t believe she is. If she grew up on boats, studied them, simply has a lot of interest and respect for them, I’m not sure. What’s clear is – she knows what she is writing about. This could easily have been a make or break the book for me. If I started reading this and found the author was making up what she thought about boats, I would have returned the book to the library in favor of another. Rather, I’m finding this book to very thoughtful, filled with emotion and what sold me to keep reading is a minor detail. She understood how boating makes you feel, how tranquil it is, and how dangerous it can be. Her talent as a writer is using boating and sailing as a metaphor for the struggles the main character can not fully communicate or understand. It was imperative she knew what she was writing about to make this successful. And let me tell you – she did.
If you are going to get into the art of writing first remember – it takes a lot of practice. When it comes to the advice of “write what you know,” don’t confuse this saying with limitations. Writing what you know is what allows the reader to connect with what you are trying to say using an idea they will understand. Without any connection it’s all just Vogon poetry.
That’s my opinion, don’t forget to visit the other girls to see their take on this weeks Random Wednesday topic: