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Wednesday, October 5, 2016
You Know Nothing, Jon Snow...by Jamie Hill
The popular TV show Game of Thrones has a fan favorite character (just look at his face and you'll understand why!) named Jon Snow. Jon had a love interest for a while, and when they verbally sparred she would often tell him, "You know nothing, Jon Snow." Without posting spoilers I will say that Jon knew more than Ygritte gave him credit for, but perhaps his vision was clouded by love.
Their exchange often reminds me of the old adage, "Write what you know." I'm guilty of breaking this rule, and perhaps my vision is clouded as well. I'm going to lay out my defense and see if you agree or disagree with my methods.
When I write romantic suspense I include police, FBI Agents and US Marshals in my work. Now, I can count on one hand the number of policemen I know in real life and make that a big Zero for FBI and US Marshals. Therefore, I do a lot of research, sifting through what's out there on the internet and choosing the best tidbits to include. What guns they use, types of body armor, typical schedules, ranks, and the like can usually be found online. For me personally, that's good enough to write a realistic character.
Setting is another area where I rely on the internet. I've
lived a fairly sheltered life, born and raised in the same small,
Midwestern community, married to one man for almost thirty-five years,
my extended family all nearby. I've traveled to about half of the fifty
states but mostly to the ones closest to me, and one memorable journey
into southern Canada. I don't set most of my stories in my town for a couple of reasons. Yes, it's what I know, but my friends all know it, too. If there's one sporting goods store in town, and I want to have a scene in that store, I don't want people thinking I'm writing about them or their establishment. Likewise, if the criminal works at the store, that could be very messy if someone thinks I'm writing about a real person. So for smaller towns I invent fictional places, then I have the liberty of creating whatever I want in that town.
In bigger cities it's easier to fudge. I've written about Kansas City, Topeka and Wichita,throwing in a street or neighborhood name, but never giving a real address or using an actual business. Yes, I might mention something in passing, but none of the real action will ever take place in an actual place in a real town. I'll create my own businesses so I can do what I want with them.
I like to set stories in places I've visited. After a trip to Seattle, I gained just enough information that I could reasonably set a story there. I knew what it felt like to ride an elevator to the top of the Space Needle. I saw the souvenir shops surrounding the Needle. I got lost trying to get to the Needle due to the way the streets are marked and barricaded to prevent people from turning around just anywhere.
It's fun to add a new locale to my repertoire. This fall I visited Chicago with a friend and we did all the touristy stuff. We rode to the top of the John Hancock building and the Sears Tower. Yes, it's technically called the Willis Tower now, for one more year. Then it will most likely change names again. And everyone who lives in Chicago still calls it the Sears Tower. (See what good info I picked up?) I rode in an Uber down the confusing, multi-level Wacker Drive and floated on a couple of different boats, an architectural river cruise through the town, and a lake shore cruise around the Navy Pier. And, we ran into a group of Chicago PD bike cops who were so nice and let us take their picture. I feel like I have lots of fodder to set a novel in Chicago, now. I'll continue to make up businesses, but also throw in some real place names just for fun.
That's how I get around writing what I know. Some things I do know are about people and relationships, and what causes their problems and how it makes them feel. That stuff I can confidently say I know, and try to weave the tension and conflict through my stories before everyone gets their happily-ever-after ending. Because I also know, that's what readers want. I do, too.
So what do you think? Are my reasons for breaking the rule justified, or, like my man Jon Snow, do I really just know nothing? Leave a comment with your email address and you'll be entered in Books We Love's October Blog Comment Giveaway. One winner will receive a festive holiday basket like the one pictured on the sidebar, plus the BWL title of their choice.
Find my latest novel, co-written with Books We Love's Jude Pittman, here.