Tuesday, November 08, 2005


You know what they say: write what you know. I confidently present this blog as an assertion that the old adage is sound advice. But does that mean that research and imagination cannot also produce compelling literature? Discuss.


Blogger Shepcat said...

Begin with what you know, but get out of your head, get out of your house, get out of town whenever you can. When you research, you learn. When you learn, you know. Ergo: write what you know.

I borrowed a lesson from the Ernest Lehman playbook and took a cross-country trip to research my last screenplay (which was inspired in part by his North by Northwest). I followed the path my lead character was going to follow in the script: I hung around the neighborhood on Chicago's south side where he was raised (and the rest of Chicago, too); I explored a corner of rural Ohio that figures prominently in Act II; I spent four days in New York City two weeks after 9/11 and covered most of lower Manhattan and several neighborhoods in Brooklyn on foot.

I ended up writing the screenplay I intended to write all along, but my travels allowed me to inject authenticity into the story. God is in the details.

Write what you know, sure. But just think of all the fun you can have getting to know it in the first place.

November 8, 2005 at 10:17 PM  
Blogger A said...

Well said. Thank you.

November 9, 2005 at 6:33 AM  
Blogger femaleatlarge said...

I think research and imagination have produced some of our most engaging and insightful literature. Writing what you know is a good place to start, but it can only take you so far. When you try to understand a world different from your own, you combine your perspective with that of the characters you write about, and the result is a greater depth, empathy and insight than you’d have if you limited your writing to only what you have directly experienced.

November 10, 2005 at 3:56 AM  
Blogger dorothy rothschild said...

Last year I went to San Francisco and heard James Ellroy read. Afterwards, someone asked him about writing, about the old "write what you know" saw. And he said he thought that was bullshit. He said he writes the kind of books he wants to read that no one else is writing. Period.

November 10, 2005 at 8:54 AM  
Blogger Shepcat said...

As someone who's been to a few Ellroy readings and met the man, I believe his reply of "bullshit" was a qualified one, whether he would want to admit it or not. He's experienced some pretty dark shit during his life; he's written extensively about those experiences; and there's no doubt that they have influenced his interest in crime, murder and, to borrow one of his phrases, "the evil that white men do." But he has also packaged and marketed himself as "The Demon Dog of American Letters," and his readings have a theatrical flair to them. It's better for his image if he doesn't deign to subscribe to a cliché, when in fact he's no different from the rest of us who move words around the page. In the end, everything he's ever done has sprung from what he already knows (and a lot more intimately than most of us ever will, God willing).

November 10, 2005 at 11:26 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home