I have a great idea for a short story. Really, I do. In my head, it sounds great. When I explain it, it sounds cool.
As we quickly learn when we write, ideas are a dime a dozen and an idea alone is not what makes a good story.
My story, “The Hunter”, isn’t working right now.
I know what I want to accomplish with it, I know what it should say. It’s great, in theory.
Here’s the thing, I don’t know anything about the details that need to be in the story.
How do you write when “Write what you know” fails you?
I’ve never been hunting and I’ve never tracked an animal in my life, I’m not sure I know anyone who has. I have no desire to get out there and learn either. I know a few hunter types and a few people who feel that hunting brings with it a more intimate knowledge/relationship with their food source. I think it’s a valid attitude, I just don’t personally subscribe to it. I don’t really want to go out there to kill something just so I viscerally understand where my meat comes from. I’ll enjoy my steak and chicken from the grocery store just fine thank you.
So what now?
Well, the way I see it, I have a few options:
- I can stop writing the story. This isn’t an really a decent option. I don’t like giving up on a good idea and I really don’t like the idea of not writing.
- To the internets! It’s amazing how much information we have available at our fingertips. I’m sure that for whatever subject you don’t know about, there are at least a dozen blogs, wikis and just plain informational articles to get you started on what you need to learn.
- Wing it! I’m a big fan of this one. In fact, I think that’s how I’ve lived the majority of my life up until a few years ago. I winged my way through public speaking competitions in grade school, essays in high school and in university. I discovery write. If I’m caught off guard, I try to land on my feet and do something. I love winging it. It doesn’t always work, but it’s always interesting to me.
- Change the focus/setting of the story so that the emphasis is not on the subject that I know nothing about, but on something I DO know about. I love this option, but I won’t use it here. Your mileage may vary on this one. I think it would make a great writing exercise once I finish to write it again and change the focus to see what it leads to. I intend to do the same while changing the setting.
I’ll likely do a mix of 2 and 3 right now. My first draft WILL get written. I’ll hit google pretty hard and get just enough information to move forward and wing the rest to see how the story looks on paper. Once that is done, I’ll seek a reader who DOES know about these subjects and ask for his/her inputs, where I can fix the more glaring mistakes and holes.
One thing to keep in mind is that I can choose option 2, 3 or 4 because hunting/tracking is not central to my story. It’s an important enough part of it that if I get it wrong it will jar the reader. It will hinder the reader’s suspension of disbelief and generally kill the story. Details are important and you need to get them right, but you only need enough to fake it. When you do, make sure that you don’t make huge mistakes and make sure that you get in some details about something you do know about. It helps create a feeling of authenticity in the story that will allow that important suspension of disbelief for the reader.
It’s always better to “write what you know”, but never let it that stop you from writing. If “write what you know” was a hard and fast rule, we science fiction and fantasy writers would never write anything.
What options other than the ones above do you see as valid?