There were three of us sitting around the table talking about writing and, as our conversation progressed, I was asked why I wrote about a small town in southern Missouri. Most people had never heard of Bolivar in my novel The Possessor; their point being why not a location near Kansas City where the novel begins. That was easy. I was familiar with the area I wrote about. I had walked those same cow paths, waded in Mile Branch, and looked out the East windows of the one-room schoolhouse. Many happy moments in my life have taken place on my Cousin John’s farm just north of Bolivar, Missouri.
I took a correspondence writing course and my instructor was Arlene Chase. Once she scribbled a little note on a piece of paper when she returned a lesson to me. She wrote that she could tell the difference in my writing when I had a personal knowledge about my subject. That is a no-brainer, but many people who attempt to write do not have a personal knowledge of their subject. My new novel, the Peruvian Urn, is about an antique cremation urn. Believe me when I tell you that I have a limited knowledge of Peruvian cremation urns. I went to the internet and started reading all I could about cremation urns and especially those from Peru. I am gaining a personal knowledge of my subject. Will I use all the material? Probably not, but it still will enhance my writing.
Often, what we think is mundane is just the opposite for our readers. We attempt to write a novel such as To Kill A Mockingbird and forget the main reason we are writing: to entertain the reader. Harper Lee wasn’t attempting to write a great American masterpiece. She wrote what she knew and looked what happened! My great niece is a wonderful writer who at the age of seventeen left the United States for school in London for three years. What she sees as ordinary is unique to the rest of us. When a writer attempts to write about those things that they have little or no knowledge of, chances are they will fail. Write what you know and entertain us.
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