Write What You Know, Write What You Don't - Just Make It Good
PINK HEART SOCIETY COLUMN
A recent conversation on one of the romance fiction industry Facebook pages I follow got me thinking about the ratio of reality to imagination in my writing.
The discussion was prompted by a post by an author who wanted to write a book set on a cruise, but had been told in no uncertain terms by writers in a different (non-romance) group that this would be tantamount to a literary crime, given she'd never been on a cruise herself.
Her situation got me thinking about how many times I’ve heard the phrase ‘Write what you know’. And after some deliberation – about five minutes’ worth, all up – I came to an important conclusion: that phrase is total crap
Most crime writers haven’t actually killed someone; I don’t know of any Regency era writer who’s been transported back to early 19th century London; I’m pretty sure most paranormal writers haven’t been bitten by a vampire or savaged by a werewolf; and (letting you in on a little secret, here) I have not indulged in every sexual position I’ve manipulated my fictional characters into trying.
There’s no doubt it can be easier and faster to write what you know, and more power to anyone who can manage that in every single book they write. But this is fiction, people – we’re supposed to make things up. And there’s a little thing called research that lets us sound like we didn’t just make things up!
As it turns out, every
one of my books has a little bit of my own reality in it, but those little nuggets of reality are stomped over by all the stuff that finds its way in there that I’ve never seen or done, and sometimes never heard of until I've started digging around on strange internet sites.
My settings are often places I know – inner city Sydney is the most obvious example. Likewise, my characters often have jobs that reflect my various careers – public relations, journalism and event management; banking and aviation. Some of my very own obsessions even make it into my characters. For example, Here Comes The Bridesmaid’s heroine, Sunshine Smart has my own carnivorousness and shoe obsession; and Ella Reynolds in From Fling To Forever became a nurse working in the developing world in sympathy with my own unsuccessful attempt to land a job with Medecins Sans Frontieres.
It is true, also, that sometimes a real life incident of mine has prompted a story. For example, my all-consuming crush on Matthew Macfadyen, after he played Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, kick-started Wanting Mr Wrong. The Contract came about because a banking colleague once joked that I should make my hero an economist just like him (anyone who’s read the book knows he actually became my heroine, instead). Somewhat hilariouslythe scene that starts my book Turning The Good Girl Bad happened to me, after a fashion, when to my horror I suspected I'd accidentally given a banking executive at my office some pages of a steamy novel I should not have been writing at work.
But – and it’s a big but – if I really wrote about my own reality, I doubt I would have any readers. My life has had its passionate moments, its dramas, its highs and lows, triumphs and failures – but I have to say, the characters in my books live a lot larger than I do. What happens to them is more amazing, their emotions are heightened, their situations more dramatic. What I’m basically saying is that what might start out grounded in a little bit of my reality quickly becomes something much more wonderful.
And wonderful is hard work, folks.
Wonderful requires me to talk to people, fling questions out into cyberspace, search the internet, keep abreast of what’s in the news, watch countless videos, and generally turn my browser history into something extremely disturbing
.I’ve done everything from pop in and out of chat rooms to get details on precipitous births (From Fling To Forever), to typing in ‘sex on a desk’ to see the positioning options (The Millionaire’s Proposition – and boy, did I get more than I bargained for that time), to watching documentaries on typhoons (Escaping Mr Right), to trawling the web for strange but true facts (Here Comes The Bridesmaid) – and that’s just the veriest tip of the iceberg. I’ve researched job descriptions, watched old movies, checked out real estate sites, harassed doctors and lawyers, sent friends into hotels and bars in overseas locations to report back to me on ambiance and decor, found obscure medical presentations, taken myself off to football games, been on site visits, and submerged myself in assorted YouTube videos. (And believe me when I say YouTube is an author’s best friend – seriously, I just learned to surf on YouTube on behalf of the heroine in my next book.)
The bottom line from my perspective is that no reader cares if you, yourself, have actually lived any or all parts of your novel, as long as you write a damn good story they can imagine themselves – not you – in.
If you're a reader, I'd love to know when a writer really nailed some research for you – or even when they didn't. And if you're a writer, what's your mix of reality versus imagination? My own research skills were at their best researching Escaping Mr Right. It's got a little bit of Sydney, a fair bit of Manila, a rugby league playing hero, a television journalist heroine, bars and penthouses and orphanages and typhoons and even vibrators and Barbie dolls. The research was a full-on ride – and so is the book. Available for pre-order now, and coming out on January 13 2016.
Sometimes Mr Right is Mr Wrong, and Mr Wrong is definitely Mr Right
Television reporter Chloe Masters is a woman of cool control . . . except when Casanova rugby league player Nick Savage is around. Then cool control goes out the window. Her boyfriend, Marcus, is everything she ever wanted - but it's getting harder to deny her body's reaction to Nick . . .
Nick Savage has been head-over-heels since he first laid eyes on Chloe - just a moment too late to stop her connecting with his team mate, Marcus. But when the goalposts shift and he and Chloe are thrown together on a week away, Nick dares her to get physical in whatever way she wants - with a kiss, a punch or anything in between. And if Chloe claims to feel nothing, he'll leave her alone for good.
How can Chloe say no to a week of mindless passion with the man she hasn't been able to get out of her head?
Trouble is, a lot can go wrong (or
right) in a week...
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