Writing What You Know

I grew up in a family of five.  My Dad, a rural grown-up farmboy, came from a family of six.  One of his brothers had 9 children.  His other brother had four children.  This means that during the holidays, plus several weeks each summer, plus one weekend a month, there was a huge contingent of us at the family farm.  Mealtimes were noisy affairs as nearly 40 people needed to be fed.  There were more men than women, and the kitchen was women’s work.  That was just the way it was in those days.  It doesn’t mean that the men didn’t do their share – they most certainly did.  It just wasn’t always in the kitchen.

I have many happy memories of times spent in the busy little stone house built on the side of the hill, overlooking green fields of feed crops and cattle, and in the distance, you could see the little river that wound its way across the middle of Missouri.  In the summer, there was canning of produce, peeling of horseradish, and the making of peach ice cream (by hand, in a crank freezer).  And there were horseback rides, pig poking (from OUTSIDE the fence), poison ivy rashes, and the search for mushrooms on the damp northern sides of the hills.  And then there were the meals.  One farm table and two makeshift tables filled with talking, laughing, eating people, noshing on good country food that was intended to fatten you up for a long winter.

These are some of the memories that appear in my novels.  In my first novel I recreated a kitchen/dining scene that included a large family, with grandchildren, all gathered around the table eating hearty German foods.  In my current work-in-progress, I have an entire scene built around the making of fresh peach pie in a farmhouse, and a lusty trip to the barn in the rain.  Yes, I said lusty, because barns are great places for a rendezvous!  In Fairest of the Faire I created the fair based on my memories of attending one, including elements of the joust.  The physical description of Gage Youngblood matches that of a character that I saw at a fair.

In my mind, this is a lot about “writing what you know.”  We can make up all kinds of things, but to get it “real,” it helps to be able to bring up a memory that can fill out that scene.  When things seem plausible, or the descriptions make your mouth water or your gut tighten, then you’ve succeeded in making it believable.  What better to draw on than your own experiences in life?  What do you know more intimately than those things you experienced for yourself?

I definitely write what I know.  I can describe clearly my grandmother’s method for frying squirrel for dinner (it’s a lot like chicken), and my cousin’s way with a recalcitrant dairy cow, and how long it took to make peach ice cream by hand with a crank freezer.  And those are just some of the memories I can use.

What about your memories are you using in your work?  Tell me about it in the comments!

10 thoughts on “Writing What You Know

    • I know, right? And my stories are written rooted firmly in reality. I love it when my heroine, or hero, are just regular people. Doing regular things. 🙂

  1. You can research a lot things, or as you say, just make stuff up. But I agree it’s the things and the places you know intimately that really ring true in your writing. They’re also the most fun to write, I find.

  2. Since I write Paranormal/Time-travel based in Scotland and Ireland, I’m always pulling out my travel journal. I first visited Ireland, England, and Scotland years ago. Yet, the memories are still so vivid and fresh. I love incorporating them into my stories. Great post, Susabelle!

    • Haha Angelina. It really does depend on what you grew up with. When we were in the country at my dad’s family’s place, we ate turtle, snake, rabbit, squirrel, whatever fish were caught, plus fresh beef (nothing like it!!), fresh chicken (they were still clucking two hours before dinner), etc. I’m not scared of too many foods, but I will not touch insects!

  3. Fun post. Although I think a lot of what I write about I don’t know. My first book was set in Wales where I’d never been. But when I finally got there, it was exactly as I imagined it. So maybe I’m working off of ancestral memories!

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