Welcome to Author Wednesday. Today I welcome Jane Endacott. She’s published Odious Seed and Other Stories, a collection of short stories, on Amazon Kindle. She’s currently writing a young adult fantasy novel. In her post, she discusses the writing of the new book in an unfamiliar genre for her as an author.
How to Write What You Don’t Know
By Jane Endacott
I am writing a YA fantasy novel, and I know nothing about fantasy.
When I started writing my book in 2007, I wanted to write about Otherization – the idea that people set themselves apart from others – because of a belief that others are fundamentally different from them.
I felt the story was best told in a fantasy setting. It was a daunting challenge. Not only was I writing my first book, but I was also writing for a genre about which I knew nothing.
The first lesson any writer is taught is to write what you know. When you’re starting out, this is great advice because it helps you practice.
But whenever I did that, I came off as a self-absorbed sad sack. My life is not at all extraordinary. I have not built schools for young girls in Pakistan, and I have not trained in barefoot running with a Native American tribe.
Still, my mind went to places that don’t exist either on a map or in my memories, and I asked myself, “What if?”
In Odious Seed, my short stories tell of a developmentally disabled girl, nuclear scientists in love, the ghost of a stalker, a seed that begins to grow and sprout inside a man, and insects that consume a building.
I don’t know about any of those and even less about writing fantasy or magical realism. Here are a few tips on how you can write what you don’t know.
Read, but not too much. When writing something you don’t know, it often helps to read an author who has similar work. It gives you a sense of how to do it successfully. But it’s not the only way to do it successfully. At some point you have to trust yourself and do your own thing.
Put yourself in their shoes. Close your eyes and imagine that you’re watching the story from your character’s perspective. What do you see and feel? What are the smells and textures? Answering questions such as these help make the world believable to our readers.
Experiment. During the editing process, it’s easy to be fixated on one storyline, one characterization, or one description. We sometimes approach the story with a single mind that limits our possibilities. Trying different paths and variations opens our minds to discovery.
Make mistakes. This goes along with experimentation. Never allow fear of failure to prevent you from trying something. Don’t think it will work? You don’t know until you try. Even if you fail, you will learn something from it.
Remember, your characters are still human. Even if you don’t know what it’s like to, say, grow up on a commune or be a race car driver, your characters are still part of the human condition. They still argue with their siblings, have dysfunctional marriages, and say the wrong thing at parties.
If you practice with these things, you will be a stronger writer for it. Writing what you don’t know helps you take risks and take your craft to new levels. It allows you to explore uncharted territories. This is how you discover what you are made of.
About Jane Endacott – Jane Endacott is a blogger and fiction writer. Her blog, “Word Savant,” helps other writers find connection and support in the creative process. She recently released her book, Odious Seed and Other Stories, on Amazon Kindle. She is also working on a YA series titled, The People of Fire & Water. She also offers services as a writing coach. She likes to read voraciously, run races, and eat food as if it were her last day on earth. She lives in Portland, Oregon.