Monday, November 7, 2011

Writing What You Are

I know I say this a lot, but I have some wonderful critique partners. I’ve learned so many things from all of them, both from reading their words and letting them read mine. In particular, I’ve learned what it means to write what you are.

Consider Amy. On she surface, she appears to be just another American housewife and stay-at-home mom, but if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find she actually spent most of her growing-up years in Hong Kong. (I think her parents were professors or something.) Then she moved back to the States for college, got married, and—you guessed it—moved overseas again, this time to mainland China. She and her husband lived there for the first seven or eight years of their marriage, which means that, on the whole, she’s spent a lot more time outside of the United States than inside of it.

But the really exciting part is that she lets that heritage seep into her writing. Her novels often have an American-Chinese angle, and why wouldn’t they? She’s kind of an expert, after all. And it’s such a part of who she is that not writing about it would deny the rest of us such a unique perspective on another culture (and even our own).

Then there’s Ben. To give you an idea of what he’s like, check out the bio sketch from his Blogger profile: “By day, I battle rogue robots for the good of society. [I think that means he writes technical manuals for a robotics company. (And after checking with Ben himself, I discovered he also gets to test these robots. Talk about a cool day job!)] I’ve been run over by a station wagon, have nearly run over a kangaroo, and would rather just ride a bicycle. I survived depression, found true love, and am living happily ever after. I love writing, singing, and lists with three items.”

Ben’s most recent manuscript is about two young people with depression who take a job with a robotics company. The company does contracted work for the U.S. Army overseas; at the moment, they’re developing a line of intelligent armored vehicles designed to carry out the most dangerous suicide missions. The problem is, the armored vehicles aren’t quite intelligent enough to run themselves, so they need a team of drivers, drivers who want to die.

Oh, and did I mention the main character’s pretty handy with a camera (and that Ben is, too)? 

Writing what you are is similar to writing what you know and writing what you love; in fact, writing what you are draws from both of these more common refrains. But writing what you are goes even deeper. Writing what you are means writing the manuscript that only you could write. It means writing about the themes, the people, the places that are uniquely yours.

I think we forget sometimes that we’re characters, too, unique and interesting individuals with voices and idiosyncrasies, likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. So when agents say they want to read something they haven’t read before or discover an undiscovered voice, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We just have to give them OUR stories. Because if they truly are our stories, then they have to be unique.


Cassie Mae said...

I completely agree! Great post as always Krista. :)

Vivi said...

I totally agree...I think every story we tell is just another little slice of ourselves in some way. Also, it's so great that you have such an awesome crit group. That can be really hard to find!

Jenilyn Tolley said...

This is a really great post! Thanks for sharing!

Amy L. Sonnichsen said...

Krista, you're so sweet! I linked here from my blog. :)


Krista V. said...

Thanks for stopping by, Cassie Mae!

It IS great to have such awesome critique partners, Vivi. You can find links to their blogs in my sidebar (although I can't claim Authoress or Nathan Bransford, unfortunately).

You're welcome, Jeni! And thanks for being another one of my awesome critique partners:)

Thanks for the link, Amy!

Myrna Foster said...

Yes. Thank you for putting this so well.

Crazy Eddie said...

Thanks Krista for an excellent article. I wholeheartedly agree with you. When you're reading you can tell very quickly if the author is writing who they are. It creates an intimacy and honesty that is palpable. Thanks again.

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Krista V. said...

Thanks for stopping by, Myrna!

Crazy Eddie, excellent thought about how writing what we are creates an intimacy and honesty with our readers. Those are the books we want to read over and over, because we feel like the authors are sharing a part of themselves with us.

Escape Artist said...

Very timely! Thank you for reminding me of that! : )

MaDonna Maurer said...

Great post! It helped that you gave examples of real people who are doing it. I liked that.

Kelly Bryson said...

Great post, Krista! You forgot to put me in there- I love to pick fruit and I have chameleon emo skin. Just like my character:)

Srsly, I've noticed the same things. I've been reading biographies lately, trying to get in depth into other people's personalities so that my next book isn't *exactly* the same as the first. I'm almost finished with Mary Lovell's "The Churchills" and next is Amelia Earhart.

Krista V. said...

You're welcome, Linda!

Thanks, MaDonna! I'm a big fan of examples:)

Kelly, if you haven't already, you should check out the post Ben wrote yesterday. I think WAYS TO FALL definitely falls under the category of writing what you feel. (P.S. What a great idea to read biographies! I love biographies, anyway, but I've never thought of doing it as a character study. Fantastic!)

Liesl Shurtliff said...

Excellent post!

It took me a while to realize that not everything about me is normal. Some of my experiences and ideas might just be new and interesting to others. It was a huge breakthrough to realize that I don't need to discover everything new.

Krista V. said...

Yep, Liesl, we get so used to ourselves that sometimes we forget we're interesting people with something to say. Thanks for that thought.