How A Fantasy Writer Can Write What You Know

“We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.”
–Ray Bradbury
I’d like to address a phrase that I’m sure ever writer has heard at least once in their writing career: “Write what you know.” Some authors criticize this advice, or do not believe it applies to Fantasy. I believe it does.
To reference Ray Bradbury, we are cups, constantly being filled with knowledge. We can use that material in whatever genre we pursue. Some of our knowledge is unique to us, some is universal. Writing “what you know” is a matter of taking all of that and working it into your story. Put real life situations in your story, real emotion, real dialogue, real world issues, and your story will come to life for your readers.
There are three major aspects to “what we know”.
1. I know because I’ve experienced it. Our personal situations and emotions can be worked into our story. No one has seen a real live dragon. So how do we properly describe someone’s reaction to one? I’ve almost been hit by a car. I’m sure the terror I felt was quite similar to how someone might feel with a dragon swooping toward them.
2. I know because I’ve observed it. I am not an aggressive, outgoing person. That doesn’t disqualify me from writing about one. I have a sister who is extremely outgoing, has a temper, and has to have her way. I’ve spent enough time with her to know how she thinks and how she’ll react in a situation. One of the characters in my novel is not based on my sister, but does have the same stubbornness and temper.
3. I know because I’ve researched it. When you come across something you haven’t experience yourself, or personally observed, you have to research. Fantasy writers are not exempt here. I’ve never had to ride a horse for a full day and then care for it. To make my story realistic, I had to look up a lot of information on horses and equipment. If you create your own world, you need to be familiar with different climates, travel time, lighting methods, etc. You can’t use magic to explain every little detail.
I don’t expect you to only write what you know. But between these three methods, you have a lot of content to flesh out your story and bring it to life. It’s the details that count. One exercise you can do is take a situation or emotion that you’ve experienced and put a character in your place. For example, have you had a fight with someone you love? How did you feel after? Transfer that to a character in the same situation. Has an item of importance been lost or stolen from you? What if that happened to your character? Are you afraid of snakes? Use those same emotions and reactions to realistically show a character afraid of anything magical.
You know more than you think you do. Remember to use it.

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