This week’s video offers some examples, via David Guterson’s East of the Mountains, of how important it is to know our subject matter.
Video Transcription: Many of us rebel against the oft-quoted command to “write what you know.” My own response to this stricture is the rhetorical question, “Why on earth would I want to write what I know? I live what I know. When I write, I want to explore people I’ve never met, places I’ve never seen, and situations I’ve never experienced.” The day I stop believing that is probably the day I stop writing fiction. But does this really mean I’m not writing what I know? Not at all. In fact, I would be a fool to try to write about a subject without understanding it—if not through personal experience, then at least through intensive research.
David Guterson’s East of the Mountains offers an imitation-worthy example of how to write what we know—or what we learn—to brilliant effect. (And, yes, this is my second video on East of the Mountains. Get ready, because the lessons I discovered in this book will probably spill over to several more episodes.) Guterson’s story follows an elderly man, who has just discovered he is dying of colon cancer, as he treks across Washington state, reminiscing about his life and hunting chukars with his dogs one last time.
Every page of this book rings with authenticity. Guterson accurately and precisely portrays the nuances of bird hunting, apple picking, veterinary surgery, and trucking, among other things. Guterson may well have personal experience with all these subjects, but I doubt it. Instead, I think he buckled down and researched every detail of his story so that he would be able to share them correctly with his readers. He allows us to see everything from the intricacies of a shotgun to the posters on the vet clinic’s walls, and the result of all his hard work is an undeniably vivid setting and a resultantly unforgettable story.
Tell me your opinion: Are you writing what you know or what you learn?
Related Posts: Write What You Know - And What You Don't
Research: When in Doubt, Make It Up!
Why Authors Must Be Honest
Story by K.M. Weiland