Write what you know. This maxim is oft quoted, true as the day it was first recorded. If one wishes to bring any sort of reality to the work one produces, one needs to be able to speak with authority, preferably from first hand experience.
It seems kind of oxymoronic for someone to say this who writes science fiction or fantasy, however. After all, I’ve never shot a laser pistol or cast fire from my fingertips via a clever incantation. But that said, there are still always elements that can make a work more real: personal interactions, details of day to day life, little details that bring bring a bit of prose to life.
And that’s the stuff you need to know to write it.
The problem is that this means that any cool, interesting or unique thing in a writer’s life is bound to end up on the page. Got a clever story about how you got a nickname? Chances are one of your characters will share it. Figured out a good hiding place for valuables in a hotel room? It will soon be less good, because one of your villains will reveal it to the world via internal monlogue. Got a clever idea for a date? Better use it quick, or else it will be how the protagonist woos his/her love interest.
It’s a double edged sword. Hold it back, and such details will eat at you and scream to be made part of the story. Give them over and you find that you have little of your own that isn’t on the page.
But that, I guess, is what artists do and to some extent what makes our craft, our manipulation of our respective mediums, worth experiencing. We offer ourselves or things that are very like ourselves up for public consumption and hope that others find it as interesting as we do.
This is not to say everything on the page is something we have tried or done. Every murder I’ve written has been speculation. Every double cross has been a game of what if. The base emotions, be they rage or jealousy or weakness or greed, those I’ve tasted in some measure. But the act is just a mental exercise, the same a shooting a laser pistol.
It feels like there should be some insight, some maxim on par with “Write what you know” that I could cap this off with, but I don’t know that I’m so wise as to be able to dispense timeless wisdom. Suffice it to say that if one wishes to write, make sure you’ve lived a little. Turn any failure inside yourself into someone’s tragic motivation. Turn any noble moment into a lifetime of honor for your heroes. And it’s up to you if you put all of yourself on the page or if there is some little corner, dark or light, that is not for public consumption.
Which do I do? Not telling.
-M. J. Stephens