Write what you know

I had an English teacher in high school who took this ‘rule’ a little too literally. As a burgeoning science fiction writer I was often met with this comment in red across the bottom of my creative writing assignments; write what you know. Having read so many novels set in other times and places where no humans had yet gone, I knew she was wrong.

The thing is this rule is actually a set-in-stone-not-to-be-broken rule when you understand it properly. Perhaps it would be better phrased as if you write something that others know, make sure you know it too.

As a writer I can put a cattle station on planet Rurak with no problems. I set the rules about Rurak, so what I say goes. However, if I name a real breed of beef cow as a milking cow, then I’ve failed my reader. The facts that exist should be known by the writer. If I can’t be bothered researching cows, then I need put a different animal on Rurak or make one up.

Just as an aside, I think it is always better to do the research on the facts. Besides giving your story verisimilitude, many readers (me included) bristle at the idea of an animal that looks like a cow, moos like a cow and gets milked like a cow, being called a Beekramp for the ease of the story. To me that feels like sloppy world building and a writer who didn’t want to research cows.

So yes, write what you know, but feel free to take what you know and put it in a fantastical world of your own creation. Just be sure to know that world you invent. The last thing you want is someone reading your story and picking up on the parts where you have broken your own world-building rules! But that’s a whole other post…

Passive protagonist

When you read a story starring a passive protagonist to whom things just happen and they bob along like a bit of flotsam on a flooding river of life, we find that boring. We want our hero to be proactive, to direct their story, to act.

Isn’t it funny, therefore, how often we settle for the passive path for ourselves? When things get bumpy we try to ride it out, when perhaps what we should do is jump into the raging torrent and swim for another opportunity?

No wonder real life can seem so boring sometimes.

The risk of the wrong words

Last week I was sweltering in 40’C heat with my car packed, glued to the radio awaiting instructions for when I should evacuate from the out-of-control bushfire spreading across the hills. This week I’m rugged up against the 15’C temperature outside and I’m hoping my gutters can handle the deluge that has already been and more that is yet to come.

Perhaps one of the biggest blows to the environmental movement was the misnomers we used around climate change in the latter part of last century; first the greenhouse effect, then global warming. It is neither of these things, it is extreme weather phenomenon. We now see that nearly every day.

I think even the prime minister of Australia would have to acknowledge that there are more extreme weather phenomenon around the world now than when I was a kid, and the statistics back me up. I wonder if we had coined the phrase Climate Change instead of Global Warming back in the 80’s if there would have been more done about it.

But I guess as long as democratic governments only have to look 3 to 4 years into the future we can probably call it anything we like and there will not be any change in policy. What a mess we are leaving for the kids of our world, I really thought my generation would be different. What a disappointment.

Sorry, I’ll get back to writing posts next week, but perhaps you can see why environment is such a common theme in my stories.

Catalyst sums it up nicely if you have 19 minutes to spare;

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Yesterday I packed my car with the things that I considered most valuable. Once the photo albums (from the days before digital) and the multitudes of long-hand writing were packed, everything else looked disposable.

It certainly helps put your material life into perspective when you have to fit what is most precious into a car boot. All the things I thought I needed I realised I didn’t really need, they were wants. What I needed was a woollen jumper, I didn’t have that.

Perhaps it is a good exercise to look at all your stuff and ask yourself ‘what would you take?’ Then give thanks that you don’t have to evacuate, that you don’t have to wait to go back to your home to see if it is still there, to see if the animals you couldn’t take survived. Some of my friends and family are still facing this.

Thank you for all the good wishes people sent me yesterday, but an even bigger thank you to all the amazing people who help us in these incredibly stressful times; the CFS, the MFS the Dept of Environment, the team at 891AM who tell us what is happening and the multitudes of volunteers who step up to do anything and everything.

Thank you.