Friday, September 16, 2011



I'm happy to present Joan Reeves. Joan is a best-selling Kindle author of romantic comedy who, in her first five months as an ebook author, sold over 120,000 ebooks. She also writes the popular blog SlingWords ( ). Her latest title is ROMEO AND JUDY ANNE.
Joan will be popping in today to answer questions. Meanwhile, here is her "Universal Truth."
A Universal Truth
by Joan Reeves
Rules are interesting little critters, aren't they? Quite often, I write about rules, and about the breaking of rules. However, there is one rule that I never break, and that rule involves truth.
First Rule of Writing
Many years ago, the first so-called rule of writing that I learned was what all published writers, editors, and agents advocate: "Write what you know."
I'm pretty sure all writers still hear this because I hear it when I pop into writers' conferences. I even say it when I teach workshops and classes and when I give advice to aspiring writers. This rule applies whether you're writing fiction or nonfiction, an article for a periodical or a blog post.
Write what you know. Why? Because it gives authenticity to your words.
Now, people who don't write fiction think that writing what you know doesn't apply. After all, you're just making it up. I've heard many people tell me this so it must be true. Once, even my banker who was trying to write a nonfiction book told me that I had it so much easier because I was just making it up. So you don't have to know anything if you're just making it up. Right?
Universal Truth
Wrong! In fiction, writing what you know means not only getting the facts straight on your information plot but also finding the underlying universal truth–the emotional truth--that is as real for an American woman as it is for a French woman or a Japanese man or whomever. It's the honesty and recognizable emotional truth–recognized usually on a subconscious level--that makes fiction come to life. When done well, it's what will make an editor offer you a book publishing contract or an agent offer representation or a reader email you and say your book "spoke" to her/him.
One might even say that writing what you know--the emotions you feel when hurt, scared, angry, sad, or happy--is even more important in fiction because without that truth, your fiction will never succeed.
My Spin
Over the years, I've put my own spin on one aspect of the "write what you know" rule, that being the information plot of a story if we're talking fiction. If you've read some of my writing how-to articles or taken a class or seen me giving a presentation at a conference, you've probably heard me say it this way: Write what you know OR WANT TO KNOW.
I truly think if you are interested enough in a subject to do the necessary research AND if you have the ability to articulately express ideas then you can write on a variety of subjects without necessarily being an expert. Researching and writing about a subject are highly effective ways to self-education.
So don't be intimidated by not being an expert on a particular subject if it interests you enough to learn about it. Without realizing it, you'll become an expert. I know I have on any number of subjects that have fascinated me enough to land jobs writing about them when I was a freelance writer.
Information Plot
In fiction, this same willingness to research and explore will help you in creating your information plot. In case you've never really heard the term information plot before, just think of it as the reality your characters inhabit. Every character should be like real people who have jobs, hobbies, relationships, and environments.
Part of your information plot may revolve around airplanes if your hero is a pilot or an aircraft mechanic. You would give enough information about planes, aviation, maintenance, etc. to make the reader feel that the hero really does know what Bernoulli's Principle is and how it affects a plane in the air. The reader would come away with some new information that he never knew before. Imparting that information via your fiction is the information part.
In my work in progress OLD ENOUGH TO KNOW BETTER, my heroine is a history teacher who became interested in artisan cheese making. At the beginning of the book, she's demonstrating how to make homemade mozzarella. The reader should come away with the knowledge of how this is done. (Just in case the reader wants to try it for him/herself, I'm including the recipe. It's actually quite easy.) That and growing grapes for wine are part of the information plot of that story.
Emotional Truth
Then there's the most important truth of all--emotional truth. You can give characters hobbies, jobs, backgrounds, and all the other elements that create a "fictional person," but if you don't tap into emotional truth, your writing will never succeed. I'll warn you that tapping into the well of emotional truth that each of us carry inside can be painful.
If you're writing about a character who has lost a loved one, without consciously knowing it, you tap into your memories where something like that happened to you. Your emotions rise to the top. You remember how sad and depressed you felt. All of that give you the words you need to show your character feeling that loss and all the painful emotions that go with that.
When a reader reads your words, if you've done your job well, the reader recognizes those feelings because she's had an experience with loss–everyone, worldwide, knows that feeling. The underlying emotional truth connects you, wherever you are, with the reader wherever he may be, via a character in a book. The same is true if you're writing about love or desire or happiness. Everyone around the world knows those feelings.
You might be able to fake expert knowledge in an information plot. You can't ever fake emotional truth and get away with it, and that's a universal truth. Always.