U – Understanding


Okay, so on the one hand, this seems like me reaching for something that starts with U for the A to Z Challenge. On the other hand, this is one of the ones that made some of the most sense to me.

The famous quote is, of course, Write What You Know. Because in so many ways, writing is taking what you know, and making it so it’s a thing the reader knows. Maybe they won’t know all of it – maybe they’ll only take a quote away. Nonetheless, you’re adding to what they know.

However, as you may have noticed, I am a fan of science fiction and fantasy – genres that are impossible if you take a literal interpretation of “Write What You Know.” Only a handful of people would be qualified to write about travel in space. No one has been to Middle Earth (except apparently anyone who has been to New Zealand). And yet, these works can be written, and read, and understood.

So that is the crux of the matter: it’s about understanding. The writer should understand what they are including in their book: understand the language they are using, understand the grammar and words; understand the characters they are including, their psychology and experiences; understand the setting and the things that happen there, whether that’s the climate or how the people fight or what they eat for breakfast.

And maybe you don’t have to know all of those things. And certainly you don’t have to have experienced them all yourself. But the writer should have an understanding of these things – whether that comes from education, research, reading, experiences, talking to people or experts, or wild extrapolation.

Because when you understand it, and put it in such that it makes sense and is believable, your readers will get it too. Not to say all writing must be realistic in that it is only real things that happen; however, the things that happen should be internally consistent, should have a realism within the world they are in. Whether that’s how alien technologies work or magic systems or biology or computer software (No click enhance! Bad!). By understanding these things happening, you can create that consistency, make things make sense, and have their own logic. And then your readers will understand, too.

What do you think? Write What You Know? How much do you need to understand? Let me know in the comments down below!


About CompGeeksDavid
Co-founder, editor, podcaster, web comicer, forum moderator, and writer for Comparative Geeks. Father, husband, geek, nerd, gamer, librarian, Christian, Libertarian, Science Fiction philosopher, and probably a number of other descriptors.

4 Responses to U – Understanding

  1. I put a published novel down once because I didn’t think I could authenticate the setting and related concerns. Living in North Carolina writing about The Cotswolds even though I had been there had its limitations. A few years went by, research became easier on the internet, and I picked it up again. Glad I did. Now I am writing a second novel set in Chicago where I grew up in the suburbs north of the city. Is it more authentic because I have intimate knowledge? It is indeed. Will I make new mistakes regardless of writing what I know, yes! I believe the famous quote is true, but I now know there are ways to get around the pitfalls.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing!

      You definitely don’t want to write going in cold – knowing nothing! Unless you’re creating a world entirely from scratch. But if I were writing about Chicago? It would really only be safe for me to write about O’hare without putting in a whole lot of research!

      I bet Google Street View is actually a really great tool, for going and getting a look at an area, to get a feel for it, to find details. The Internet indeed makes this a much easier prospect!


  2. The trick is to build understanding without getting bogged down in lengthy descriptions and details. We just don’t live in a “Jane Austen”-paced world anymore! I always marvel at authors who teach me things while keeping the plot moving briskly along at the same time… I always thought Michael Crichton did a fabulous job of this…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Michael Crichton was fantastic! His work always read as really well researched, without wasting time on proving it. Lots of science – even as it moved into science fiction!


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