Writing something you are not

Question: This is driving me insane! I need help about writing things into my stories that I've never experienced before myself. I know the logical thing is "well, experience them then!", but I'm talking about things like... say, writing a genius character when I am obviously not a genius, or a master swordsman or fighter when I have never practiced sword arts or martial arts, or a musical genius when I can't even play "happy birthday" on a tambourine! This is the most serious roadblock my writing has and I would really appreciate some help. Thanks in advance!

Answer: If you don't know anything about swordsmanship, find out. You don't have to become an expert, but there are many books on the subject that will help you. It is still a sport practiced in many places (and I don't just mean fencing), so you might be able to find some experts to learn from. At least master enough of the vocabulary to sound like you know what you're writing about - and to avoid obvious blunders. The best writers of things like historical fiction are people who love the period they're writing about so much that they make it their hobby to learn as much about it as they can.

If that sounds daunting (and it is at first), it is also true that writers sometimes get away with writing about things they don't know enough about. For instance, the book Eragon contains a great example of sword training in which it seems obvious that the writer knows
very little about the subject. But I don't recommend this approach. You don't want to disappoint your readers. Your book will come across as far more authentic if you do your homework.

As for the other issue... You don't have to be a genius to write about one, though it helps. The important thing is to know how a genius sounds to other people.

For instance, take a look at a recent episode of Dr. Who or House or The Big Bang Theory, all of which feature characters who are geniuses. Not every real genius talks a mile a minute and uses vocabulary that leaves other people scrambling to catch up. Some are actually quiet and soft-spoken. Some stupid people can talk like they're smart. And not everything these TV geniuses say is actually brilliant. But the effect of writing them as such impresses the viewer with the character's intelligence.

Sometimes too, the really brilliant things your fictional genius says or does don't have to be explained in full detail. If you want your character to invent a time machine, you don't need to have him show the math to prove it's possible. You can just have him do it and let the results speak for themselves.

Also, you have one advantage. You can take all the time you need to come up with brilliant things for your genius to say or do or know. In the book, you can have your genius spout these ideas instantly and effortlessly, and that quick thinking will convey the idea of superior intelligence.

Click here to post comments

Join in and submit your own question/topic! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Questions About Novel Writing.

search this site the web
search engine by freefind

Celebrating our 2nd year as one of the...

 Step-by-Step Novel Planning Workbook

NEW! Make Money Writing Nonfiction Articles

"I've read more than fifty books on writing, writing novels, etc., but your website has the most useful and practical guidance. Now that I understand how a novel is structured, I will rewrite mine, confident that it will be a more interesting novel." - Lloyd Edwards

"Thanks to your "Create a Plot Outline in 8 Easy Steps," I was able to take a story that I simply just fooled around with and went willy nilly all over, into a clearly defined, intriguing battle where two characters fight to keep their relationship intact, and try to find a balance in control of themselves and their lives. Thanks to you, I'm not ashamed of the poor organization of my writing." - Nommanic Ragus

"I am so glad I found your site. It has helped me in so many ways, and has given me more confidence about myself and my work. Thank you for making this valuable resource, for me and my fellow writers. Perhaps you'll hear about me someday...I'll owe it to you." - Ruth, Milton, U.S.A.

"I never knew what to do with all the characters in my head, but since discovering Dramatica I am writing again in my spare time. Thank you for making this available. Yes, it is a bit complex, and it does take time, but I love it because it works." - Colin Shoeman

"I came across your website by chance. It is a plethora of knowledge, written in a simplistic way to help aspiring writers. I truly appreciate all of the information you have provided to help me successfully (relative term) write my novel. Thank you very much!" - Leo T. Rollins

"I can honestly say that this is the first website that is really helpful. You manage to answer complex questions in relatively short articles and with really intelligent answers. Thank you for taking the time to write these articles and sharing them so generously." - Chrystelle Nash

"...had no idea that a simple click would give me such a wealth of valuable information. The site not only offered extremely clear and helpful instructions but was a very enjoyable read as well. The education from your wonderful site has made me a better writer and your words have inspired me to get back to work on my novel. I wish to give you a heartfelt thanks for How to Write a Book Now, sir." -- Mike Chiero