Saturday, January 7, 2017

"Write what you know." Good advice?

"Write what you know" is advice often given to writers. Novelist E.L. Doctorow didn't agree. He recommended the opposite in a conversation with George Plimpton that appeared in Paris Review: "We're supposed to be able to get into other skins. We're supposed to be able to render experiences not our own and warrant times and places we haven't seen. That's one justification for art, isn't it: to distribute the suffering?"


Photographer and writer Brock Perks comments on that: "All fiction depends upon conflict, but conflict without at least inferred suffering is just action. Perhaps this gets us close to what is meant when people favour literary over so-called non-literary fiction. Doctorow could be saying that he ensures his characters do suffer, or at least pass on to the reader signals of pathos, rather than simply fulfil the requirements of a plot like empty approximations of humanity."


That resonates with me, especially the words "empty approximations of humanity." I find it a constant challenge to make my characters more than "empty approximations of humanity."

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