Monday, June 13, 2011

How to Write What You Don't Know- Chandler Craig

Chandler Craig is an up and coming YA writer who is repped by Daniel Lazar at Writer's House, which pretty much guarantees she's a fabulous writer. She is also currently ghost writing novels which means she's being published but it's all secret agent like, because if she told us her pen name she might have to kill us or something. So we won't even ask.  For life preservation and such.

Chandler also has a great blog, Fumbling with Fiction that you can find here.

So, not only is Chandler a brilliant writer with a truly cool author name, but she's also a  law student, which pretty much guarantees that her brain is full of smart. And to top it off, she's gorgeous. However, despite the unfair distribution of beauty, brains and writing finesse I decided we should not hate her because she's also a really, really nice person!


Writing What You Don't Know

So, I thought since I was coming on Janet’s blog, it would only be fitting to write a little something about, well, writing sisters. See, I know from the dedication to Janet’s book that she is lucky enough to have a sister! So, having a sister + writing about sisters, it makes a certain amount of sense, yes?

I, however, have not been so lucky. While writing my book, I knew my main character, Scout, needed someone who would be honest with her and who would see her as she truly was—you know, the type of person who can tell which eye looks better once you put on your makeup. Well, who better to fill that role than a sister, right?

One problem.

I’m an only child. That’s right. Not only do I not have a sister, I have nary a sibling in sight. Sort of a typical writers’ conundrum, isn’t it? Follow the age old adage to write what you know or venture out beyond experience? I guess, I decided to do a little of both. And since I know many other writers struggle with what to do when writing on a topic with which they have no personal experience, I thought I’d give my top three tips for making your writing feel “real.”

1. Don’t be afraid to ask. Although I don’t have a sister, that doesn’t mean I don’t know any sisters. In fact, I know quite a few. One of my best friends has three sisters who have all lived together at one point or another and whose house I spend a good deal of time at and, as it turns out, the sister relationship in my book began to grow out of my friend’s relationship with one of her sisters. So then what do you do when you have no personal experience with a subject? Find someone who does! Okay, okay, I know what you’re thinking. It’s not always cool to go up to someone and ask if you can interrogate them for some random novel you’re writing. We’ve all been met with the awkward pause when we say we write novels. So know that you don’t have to lead with that. People love to talk about themselves, so let them. The note jotting can come later.

2. Find specific kernels of truth. You know what they say—a good lie lies in the details. Fine, so “lying” isn’t the nicest way to put it. Let’s call it “convincing.” You have to convince your audience you know what you’re talking about. After all, your characters are living in this world. They certainly know enough to be specific! Use the correct lingo and write with honesty. Use the specific kernels you are able to include as fence posts on which to hang the rest of your narrative. From there, you can spin a narrative about a setting, relationship, or event as you see it unfold, but be sure to write with confidence and not revert to generalities.

3. Google like your life depends on it. This isn’t college. Nobody is going to be upset if citing the website you’re checking out would have been a cardinal academic sin if included in a dissertation. But, if, say, your character is a big Dungeons and Dragons player and you don’t know the difference between an Animal Domain and an Astral Plane, reading through comments in a D&D forum might be just the ticket. The trick to internet research, though, is doing a lot of it. So much that you feel as if you DO know what you’re talking about. Read, read, read…internalize. And in this case, personal accounts such as blogs and message boards may serve better than articles since you are, in fact, trying to recreate a personal account.

Thanks to Chandler for great words of wisdom!! And now I love her just a little more because she is an only child and since I have one, I'm kind of partial to them!


  1. Great post! I always feel intimidated when I'm writing something that I don't know, which seems to come up quite often! I do a lot of Googling, but I need to learn to be a little braver with the whole talking-to-people-who-know thing.

  2. Awesome post! I think it requires more creativity to write what you DON'T know versus what you do. Since I only have a sister, I definitely drew from some unconventional sources to write the relationship between my protagonist and her brother. I looked at my relationship with my sister, with my husband, with my male best friend from college. And of course, google and I get along really well.

    Great post!

  3. I have no sisters, either--just five brothers and three daughters. Now I'm rewriting a novel that I wrote for my daughter when she was 17 now that she's turning 28, and she's helping me understand what it's like to be a teenaged girl. It makes a huge difference to have her input now!

  4. Scott, that's great! I bet your daughter loves being able to do that with you. So fun!

  5. My daughter is an only child and can feel left out at times among her multiple sibling friends. I'm sure she will appreciate your tips about writing "sisters".
    Thanks for sharing your great and helpful writing tips!

  6. Great post and good advice!