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  • Writer's pictureMichael Sauls

Write What You Don't Know

The Problem With Only Writing What You Know

I often hear people say write what you know. It is an axiom that mostly rings true. It is safe to write about what you know. You can relate to what you are putting on the paper and therefore your readers can relate to you. The problem is that you only know so much. Writing what you know is a good starting point, but if you continue down that path it will invariably become predictable, and predictable isn't good for your story.

But writing isn't just about doing what is easy or safe. It is hard work, and if we are to evolve as writers then we must constantly push into the unknown. We must challenge ourselves, and work hard to learn new things. We must always seek the next new and surprising things around the corner so that we can share that sense of excitement and surprise with our readers. If writers only wrote about what they knew then there would be no science fiction, fantasy fiction, nor historical fiction. For as much as a writer may learn about science, they have never been into outer space. As much as they learn about mythology and magic, they have never ridden on the back of a dragon. As much as they may learn about history they did not live in and experience that time in person. A writer must always be learning, researching and experiencing their own adventures. They must be able to imagine what reality could be if some extraordinary circumstance existed.

Method Writing

I believe in utilizing method writing as a tool to improve on character development. Perhaps you have heard of method acting. Method acting is a technique used by actors. The method revolutionized acting by using techniques to achieve realism in acting and to bring more depth to the characters that actors are playing. Method acting was invented by a Russian director named Konstantin Stanislavski and I believe that the some of the same principals utilized by actors can be applied to writing. If you want to have more realism then I encourage you to study Stanisavski's method.

Creating Realistic Characters

If you want to create realistic characters role playing can be another useful tool. Try role playing character concepts with some friends, loved ones or even strangers under the right circumstances. Sometimes when I meet a stranger, I know I am unlikely to ever see again I will try acting and speaking in the manner of a new character concept. I do this to see how people will react to the type of personality that I am imagining. Usually, I like to keep a notebook with me while I am performing this exercise so that I can take notes about people's responses.

If you can't figure out a way to role play with someone in person, the internet offers many options. I know that it is a little old fashioned, but I have used internet chat rooms to role play character concepts with strangers. There are even communities of people who do this for fun, so you will be in good company.

Role Playing Games Are a Tool

Role playing games are another fun way to develop characters. I've been playing games like Dungeons and Dragons for many years. I've also played Shadow Run, Rifts, and White Wolf to name a few. I find the game play entertaining, and you get to socialize with friends who will inspire good character development. When video game platforms emerged, I found that I really enjoy playing games where I could build my own characters. Having a visual image of a character idea helps with describing scenes. I believe if you give them a chance that you will find out that Role playing games can be a powerful tool in your toolbox.

Good scene development and imagery is also important to good writing. You can story- board your character's scene to better visualize important events in your tale. There are many tools at your disposal to help you to do this. There is a lot of powerful software out there, some of it is even free to use online.

If you are good at drawing then you can draw out sketches of important scenes. I like to use posable figures used for making sketches and 3d models to help me visualize complicated battle scenes.


The word that I cannot emphasize enough is research. Don't be afraid of what you don't know, just be willing to do the work to learn new things. There are a million ways that you can do research into a topic to write about. You can ask questions, take a class, go on an adventure, or look it up on your computer. Use your imagination and the sky is the limit.

Happy Writing

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