Know Your Subject


          If you only write what you know directly, from your own life experience, your story might – no offense – turn out to be kind of dull (I sure wouldn’t want to spend valuable time reading about my life). 
            One type of novel that seems to be based on real life is the “coming of age” novel, in which a young person experiences a life-changing event that causes him/her to mature from adolescence to adulthood. Although the Coming of Age novel has and always will be a staple of literature, you’ll probably have a hard time finding a publisher unless there’s something unusual about your protagonist. In William Wharton’s bestseller Birdie, his main character, psychologically wounded in battle, finds refuge in caring for birds. The author (who was 53 when he wrote this first novel, incidentally) had himself raised canaries for most of his life, and so was comfortable and knowledgeable about his character’s passion.
            So writing what you know doesn’t really mean writing about your life; rather, it means writing about your passions. Write what you like – what you like to do, what you like to read about, what you daydream about. Because, whether you believe it or not, those are the things you know.
            My book The Forever King, about the reincarnation of King Arthur as a 10-year-old boy in Chicago, drew heavily from my lifelong interest in the Arthur legend. But until I started writing it, I had no idea how much I really knew about the subject. All sorts of small things started appearing on the page – details that made the book believable, I think, despite its weird premise.
            It doesn’t matter if a lot of other people are interested in your particular passions. When I read Birdie, it didn’t matter that I’d had no previous interest in birds. The power of Wharton’s writing, and his deep passion about his subject, compelled me to enter his world.
            Personally, I think that before long we’re going to see a spate of new novels based on Anime freaks. There are a lot of them – they’re just not old enough to write Coming of Age novels yet.