This post is actually an edited version of one from a previous “author blog” I started last year, when I first got serious about writing and publishing my series. Enjoy! [note: the auditorium that serves as the main background picture/banner/whatever on my blog is the very same theatre whose backstage is depicted throughout]
If you are any kind of writer, you’ve heard the classic advice of “write what you know.” Opinions on this vary widely, as a simple Google search of the phrase will show you.
This is something I have always done. All of my main characters share some aspect/s of my personality or life experiences. This wasn’t a conscious decision when I started thinking this up in seventh grade, but it made sense. Why not write about another seventh grade girl who also rode horses and was in a professional ballet company? I had the experience of trying to do homework in the dim lobby of the old ballet studio while scarfing down an Italian sub, surrounded by all of the other Junior company girls as we waited for rehearsal to begin. I’ve been the person who wasn’t cast when almost everyone else was (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and who was chosen when many of the other girls my age were cut (dryads, Sleeping Beauty).
But at the same time, it was never my goal to write a straight-up autobiography. The performing arts have ALWAYS been a part of my life, but the majority of my personal experience is as a dancer, whereas many of my characters are actor/singers. Although I’ve been an audience goer since I was very little (thank you, kid productions at Theatre By the Sea and the Warwick Musical Theatre), I only have a small amount of personal experience with acting and singing. These were things I wanted to do, but never had the time to pursue. I spent my second year of college, after failing at being a Pre-Vet major, as a tentative, unofficial Musical Theatre major, even though I knew I didn’t want a career in that field. In any case, this was when I got some acting and singing experience under my belt, auditioned for a number of shows I didn’t get into, spent many hours working the ticket booth and concession stand with the student theatre group.
Funnily enough, as one article noted, writing is almost like being a Method actor. You need to be able to feel the emotions of whatever your characters are doing, even if you’ve never actually done the same thing. With writing as with acting, I think it is a thing everyone can do to some extent, although it’s easier for some.
That said, when it comes to knowledge as opposed to the emotion behind things I haven’t experienced, I do my damn research. Maybe it’s the librarian in me speaking, but this is SO key to having a believable story, and with the Internet, there’s no excuse NOT to (but if you’re not sure where to find information on x, y, or z, CONTACT YOUR LOCAL REFERENCE LIBRARIAN – I guarantee they will be happy to assist you 🙂 ). Then I can piece together my findings with stuff I HAVE experienced to create what should be authentic experiences for my characters.
But on the other hand, when you can relate your writing to your own, personal experiences, why not go for it? (Spoiler alert, I guess, but seeing how my characters get there is half the fun :p) In Book Three of my story, it’s announced that the theatre where the ballet company Whisky is part of routinely performs is being closed for renovations so that larger touring productions, specifically The Phantom of the Opera, can run there. (End of spoiler) The renovation of the Providence Performing Arts Center is something that happened in real life, something I was around for. I remember the old, shabbier PPAC – and you’re seeing just a few of my pictures here – and then how much brighter, cleaner, nicer everything was once renovations were complete. It wouldn’t be difficult for a writer to imagine a decrepit theatre, sure, and I do have to imagine a lot of theatres I’ve never actually visited, but I like being able to add these little true-to-life nuances when possible.
I guess my two cents on this issue is this: it’s great if you CAN “write what you know”, if you’ve had the personal experiences that allow you to make the details that much richer, but if that’s not possible, DO YOUR RESEARCH. Learn as much as you can about whatever your characters are doing so that you can put yourself in their shoes, even if it takes a little Method acting.