Sunday, June 5, 2011


Good morning fellow readers who love to write,

My name is Wendy Laharnar. I'm Australian. My novel The Unhewn Stone, due to be released by MuseItUp in August, is historical fantasy, for young adults. Whether you write contemporary romance or cosy mysteries or delve into alien realms like I do, it helps to draw on what you know.

So, in this workshop, Write About What You Know , we will transform your everyday reality into the core of fascinating fiction; a story that only you can write.

What do you know that is unique to you? Pretty much everything, I'll bet, and this knowledge comes from your personal experience:- your social conditioning or culture; upbringing; environment; education including reading choices; relationships; employment; travel; morals; values; observations; memories; dreams and aspirations; traumas etc.  The emotional and sensual baggage this entails ensures your life's experience is unique.

The example often used is of a crowd describing a circus where no two descriptions are entirely the same because of what we bring to the experience. It was the same with the Royal Wedding. Most people had an opinion or observation about the occasion and/or the dress sense of particular guests. I noticed the groom didn't receive a wedding ring and wondered why. I have an opinion about that based on my own experience. One exception – I suspect we all had the same reaction to Princess Beatrice's hat. :)

Let's get to work.

In Part A we'll look at three aspects of writing what you know: Places, People, and Situations unique to your life's experience. For the moment we'll put aside our imagination (until Part B) and concentrate on facts. The stronger the impression we bring to mind, the better.

1.      PLACES.

Which real places have had a profound affect on you?

For example: dark holiday hotels or campsites that scared you? Do you have fond memories of the beach, caves, or serene cathedrals? Did the playhouse in your back garden give you a sense of ownership? Have you been to somewhere most people could never imagine going to? A haunted house? A deserted museum at night? An oasis?

Perhaps the place affected you because of its awe-inspiring beauty; or was it somewhere you couldn't set foot inside and now wish you had; or did you enter a submarine and now dread the thought of it; was it a place where you could spend more time?

Have you travelled and lived in different locations, or is your experience one that soundly grounded you in your community?

With the following exercises it is often best to go with the first things that come to mind.

On paper, preferably a notebook or journal for future reference and expansion:

1a) Describe 3 places vivid to you.

1b) try to recall your sensory perception of each place, (using sight, smell, sound, touch and taste.)

1c) How did each place affect you emotionally? There are plenty of emotions to choose from, not just love, joy, hate, anger, fear etc. so be true to yourself and really think about each place.


Who immediately came to mind? Yes that person! Write down their traits that bother/delight you. Most importantly what is it about him/her that intrigues or angers you, above all others at this moment.

Think of three more people who have unusual traits or interests - something appealing or odd about their habits and appearance that makes them stand out from the crowd, to you.
Do you know three others who could be their opposite?  You don't have to love them or hate them but you should feel strongly about them.
Do you approve of their traits and behaviour, or disapprove?
Do they make you happy to be near them? Do you cringe and back away? Do you want to know more about them? Are you able to ask them questions?

What do they say? Elderly people use different verbal and facial expressions from the young. Have you noticed modern speech trends are picked more easily by some groups than others? Some are clever mimics and make us laugh or use particular phrases common to them. Have you heard unusual conversations or expressions from people in public places or on public transport? Does there conversation tell more about them than they realize?

On paper, notebook or journal, where you can add more traits as they occur to you over time – List their

2a) distinguishing physical features – pleasant and unpleasant.
2b) the traits of the likeable people
2c) the traits of the not so likeable.
2d) your reactions to the sight, sound, smell, touch, (?taste) of these people and to their attitudes and behaviour.
2e) favourite phrases you remember - from earlier times and the present day.

These sayings are priceless, so keep adding them to your journal as soon as you hear them.

Holly Lisle lists 447 character traits and emotions that might remind you of people you know.


These are limitless.
The Primary Situation is when you have first hand knowledge from a personal experience or dream/nightmare. These cover birth, marriage, death and every day in between. Accidents, chance meetings, unexpected pleasure, anticipated delights or problems. Dates, falling in love etc.

The Secondary Situation. A friend or family member tells you of their experience. You can usually verify the facts or sympathize with their private joys and despair.

The Third Hand Situation.  You read news articles written by a journalist about someone else's experience or you listen to the radio or TV and make up your own mind to the validity of the facts. You may or may not believe everything you read, hear or see. This also applies to overheard conversations – the speaker may be embellishing the truth for effect.

Earth shattering experiences like earthquakes and tsunami's, war and famine etc.,  belong here, as well as the report of an individual's trouble and torment or good fortune.

For this exercise choose one of your situations from each group and write them in your journal.

If you'd like to put a couple of places, people and situations as an example of your endeavour in the comments, I'd love to see them. Let our creative Muse feeds off each other, just for a day.

Now on to Part B.


Rosalie Skinner said...

You have given me so much to think about. I am looking for a notebook to start jotting down ideas.
There are a few ‘happy’ places I visualize when I need to centre my emotions. Thanks for inspiring me to jot down these ideas. What a great way to keep writing, for the times when I don’t have time to lose myself in my novels. I am one of those authors who need time and serenity to create my Fantasy world.

Ok, a place I can visualize (and one I have used in my writing).

This one is close to home, just above the beach, overlooking the ocean. What comes to mind? The sound of waves, crashing on sand, breaking over rocks. The rumble through the rocks, shaking the ground, good vibrations. Colours changing as white foam coats dark rocks, retreats to reveal ‘polished’ stone. Texture of sand, of calm water, rolling waves, crunching surf, foaming white froth retreating back into the depths. Even the air plays a part. The taste of salt the feel of it on my skin, the burning heat of the sun, the smell of sweat, of sun lotion and of seaweed exposed at low tide. The cry of gulls, the call of surfers, the wind in my hair, ears and bringing tears to my eyes. In the distance the lonely journey of tiny sea craft, the majesty of whales migrating, the joyful play of dolphins in the surf.

Ooops. That’s just one place, a minute of remembering. I dare not start on another.

Thanks for the inspiration and idea of keeping a journal for this type of note.

Wendy said...

Way to go Rosalie! You can't afford to lose such a rich experience. Save this. So many stories will benefit from gems found here.

Anne Duguid Knol said...

Thought I understood how to write what you know. I now realise I didn't have a grasp of the breadth it encompasses.
Thanks for this Wendy. Really thorough analysis and so helpful.

John B. Rosenman said...

Yes, there's a lot to think (and feel about) in Wendy's blog.

My paranormal romance novel, DARK WIZARD, was just released by MuseItUp Publishing. It takes place in San Luis Obispo, CA, a city I've visited eight times. Still, I didn't know it as well as I thought, so your suggestion that you should take notes is a darn good one. Many writers do keep journals in which they write down their ideas, musings, and so on.
If you write about a particular place, having a map in your head can not only help but prove essential.

Wendy said...

Hi Annie,
Thank you for being here. Yes, we have so many personal resources to drawn on, it's impossible to remember them all. I particularly like to listen to the way people speak. I know someone who uses malapropisms and wish I'd recorded them. (I made some up but they weren't as effective as hers because the critique group simply corrected my spelling.)
I'm happy you find this workshop helpful.

Wendy said...

Hi John,
Congratulations on your new release. So you wrote about the setting you know. I'm sure many of the details that brought San Luis Obispo, CA, alive for you slipped into your novel, whether intentionally or not and enriched it for your reader.

I went to Switzerland to study my setting. I made notes. A favourite was the impression I had when I 'strolled along the lane where the tree lined walls narrowed and blocked out the light, where flowers tripped over themselves and vine leaves draped the ground'. I used that image, unchanged, in my novel.

The journal I am suggesting is separate from the one we keep for musings and ideas. It's for an on-the-spot record of facts and the feelings they evoke. Specific details for use in a present or future story. It provides you with a clear 'map in your head' as you said. I like that phrase :)

Wendy said...

btw. I noticed my kink to Holly Lisle's character traits wasn't clear so I re did it. Hope you all find it useful.

Beverly said...

Hi Wendy: Your post to John answered a question I wanted to ask. I do have another question related to your answer though. I will be traveling to places this summer I will use in stories. When you're recording in your on-the-spot journal and taking in the atmosphere what do you do when you get an idea related to a story such as plot, characterization etc? Jot it down then and there somewhere else, put notes in the same journal? When I observe, it seems my imagination and the story get in the way and scramble everything? Do you have a suggestion to keep it sorted? Thanks for all your suggestions.

Wendy said...

Hi Beverly,
Firstly, how wonderful you can travel to your potential settings. You must be getting excited.

Your question relates to organization of thoughts and notes. To prevent that scrambled feeling, and since you are travelling, I suggest using the front and back of your notebook to separate your detailed observations from your imagination.

Write your immediate impressions of REALITY in the FRONT. ie the details (often the smallest thing that takes your fancy) of places and people, that turn of phrase, the unexpected feeling or reaction. These don't come from your imagination. They come from your senses. Often, you will notice that these notes can be used directly in your story because they resonated with you so you have already given them depth.

Flip to the BACK of your book and jot down those sudden imaginative ideas for plot and characterization that your observation or Muse has stimulated. These are equaly important. For the present story or for future use.

It is best to keep the two separate for the sake of clarity. Then it is easier to choose the notes from both sections that you want to weave into your story when the time comes.

Thank you for your question, Beverly. Have a wonderful trip.

Beverly said...

Wendy: Thanks for the idea which makes perfect sense. Traveling sends my senses into overload and I'm juggling multiple notebooks now. I'll keep the new ones small, but the sections separate. I think this method will make correlating the ideas better when it comes to writing also since they'll be together.

Wendy said...

Yes, I think so. And I forgot to mention. Take tons of photos, as if you wouldn't, hehehe. and hone in on specifics to suppliment your notes.

How lucky you are. It's all about writing. :)

I'll probably chase you for a travel feature for my ezine when you get back.

Barbara Ehrentreu said...

Wendy, great workshop so far. I was inspired to do the exercise. I found 3 places and jotted down my thoughts. I don't have a notebook handy, but this is a good idea. I tend to experience things, think about them and then write. I never thought of jotting down my thoughts as they are happening. I'm usually too in the'moment? Would this work if you did it after the experience?

Charlie said...

Wow, so much great stuff to think off. Details, details, and oh yeah, details! Wonderful exercises. Really made me look at all the stuff I do know about and think of how I can use them in my writing.
C.K. Volnek

Wendy said...

Hi Barbara,

Lovely you stopped by. Yes it's perfectly okay to jot down your thoughts after the event. The fresher the better though. The important thing is to get them recorded because we do forget, and that is frustrating. It is in the details that non writers might miss we find special gems.
Did you follow through and make a new place from a composite of the real ones you just mentioned?
If you'd like to show us the fictional place you developed, I'd love to see it in the comment in Part B. I'll keep coming back during June and respond, if you want more time.
Thank you so much for participating.

Wendy said...

Thanks Charlie,
I'm sure a lot of what you know does find its way into your writing. Nevertheless, we can't remember everything so it's worth keeping a record of the gems.

Thanks for letting me know I got you thinking. :)