“Write about what you know” is one of those pieces of advice that is pretty solid and logical. There are a lot of people who do fairly well writing about what they’re familiar with. That’s perfectly fine. I just can’t follow this advice myself for one very simple reason — I don’t know much. I try to write about what I don’t know because a story JUST about what I know would be the most boring and plain thing ever to exist. The problem is that I can put in the hours needed for research and talking to people better educated than I am, but I will always feel that it’s not enough especially when it’s about social issues and… I don’t know, economics. Then, I’d also try to slip in a social issue here, a good role model there… and suddenly my story starts to look like this:
Could it work? Yes. Is it starting to look like a hot mess? Yes.
That’s not to say that I don’t think or talk about serious topics out of fear that I will look stupid. The difference, at least to me, is that when I talk about things to my friends and colleagues I’m representing my own views and my own personal prejudices. I also think there’s a difference between commenting on representation of the issues, like in my post Imagine History Through Fiction – The Help (Film) and talking about the issues themselves. If I were to write fiction about something, I feel that there’s a little bit of an assumption that I have looked into this topic and based my opinions on what I’ve found. That’s scary to me. I don’t want to misrepresent or contribute to the marginalisation of a specific group of people. I’ve said callous things on the internet in the past, and I don’t want to go back to doing that even if accidentally.
So, why did I even choose to bring this up? In 2016, I was in the middle of writing a story that was filled with social issues that I’m unfamiliar with. The story was set in an American/European type of society, but the background was more wasteland-like. I’ve already had the plot mapped out and if I wanted to, I could easily finish my first draft in a few months. Unfortunately, I’m afraid of doing so because I decided to give a character, who I had already planned to kill off from the start, three “strikes” – she is female, she is an ethnic minority, and she is part of the LGBT. To be clear, I didn’t give her those three characteristics because I knew I wanted to kill her off. I planned the main plot before I planned out her characterisation, then I added two subplots that ended up changing her ethnicity and her sexual orientation. It wouldn’t be as big of a problem if I had planned to kill off anyone else, but I didn’t. The main cast was already fairly small to begin with and I feel that if I kill off more than one of them it would start to look a lot like Final Destination (especially because of the way that I had planned to kill that one character off).
I don’t intend on finishing this particular story because I really don’t know how to continue it without coming off as overly offensive. Maybe I’ll rewrite it some other time, but I honestly I don’t know how I’d do it since I put most of my effort into character development and the plot itself is pretty bare. I’m considering posting it here as an indefinitely unfinished piece because I’m quite proud of some parts of what I wrote so far.
Either way, I’ll keep you posted.