The Downside of Writing What You Know

I'm a Brighton native, so it makes sense for my manuscript to start out in the city.  I didn't have to imagine any of the setting which made that part of the book relatively easy.

But my familiarity with the city weakened my manuscript.  I went into too much detail, talked about things readers didn't need to know.  Instead of giving the story depth, writing what I knew dragged the story down.

This is a really, really, really good reason to have beta readers unfamiliar with the setting, especially if it's based on a real place.  Being too familiar with something means you can go on and on about it without noticing, and I definitely did.  Readers don't need an in-depth guide to the city - they certainly don't get one with my imaginary locations.  Don't be afraid to back off and leave it to the imagination.  That's what reading's all about.  So what if the readers don't picture Brighton exactly as I know it? It's reaaaaaaally not that important.

But you better be able to tell me EXACTLY HOW TO GET HERE when I test you later!!!

And remember, it's not just locations you can be overly familiar with.  Any subject matter you are interested in or extremely familiar with can easily go from the right amount of detailing to a tedious lecture.

What do you mean you don't need to know the precise workings of a steam train?!

Strike a balance and definitely check with others.  There's a fine balance between awesome little details and drowning your readers in overshare.  BETA READERS ARE AMAZING.  MAKE SURE YOU HAVE SOME!

Comments

  1. Excellent point, Cole! The same holds true for events based on real life. We need to remember, we're writing *fiction*. It's okay to make stuff up. We can add streets, fabricate events, even change history if we want to! As you said, getting hung up on details ("but it didn't happen that way," or "but that street doesn't lead to the river") at the cost of story is too high a price to pay. :)

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    1. Exactly! Fiction is all about creative freedom. Don't let reality limit you :)

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  2. What a great point! It's easy to get too obsessed over showing the readers how much you know about the area. Last year I read a book where an American character comes to live in London. I was really put off by all the wikipedia facts the author kept slipping in. Like what A*Levels are and that Wales have their own language. It didn't add anything to the story, it just interrupted it all. As a British reader I knew all this stuff anyway and didn't need explanations.

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    1. That sounds extremely annoying ^^;

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  3. Maybe you could write a post about Brighton from all the parts you're cutting. I'd love to read that! Good point though, overly descriptive pages always make my eyes glaze over.

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    1. lol, maybe I will. "Miss Cole's Guide to Brighton" ;)

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  4. I hadn't thought of this before, but I think you're totally right. :)

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  5. This is such an excellent point! I started reading an old manuscript today, one set in my hometown. And having some space (a few years worth from it) has allowed me to realize that I spend way, way too much time describing the place.

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    1. Thank you ^_^

      It's so easy to slip into overshare and so hard to realise you've done it.

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