Write what you know. An English teacher in grade 10 told me that. That was a while ago, but I’m pretty sure creative writing teachers are still saying the same thing.
I write contemporary romance, which I think can fall into the category of writing what you know. But I also write historical romance set in seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth century England. Though I’ve visited England, I don’t live there and of course I have no experience of life two or more centuries ago. For these stories, I am clearly not writing what I know.
In my latest book, Fighting Fate, a time travel paranormal, I’ve combined the contemporary and historical, so I’m somewhere in the middle. The story takes place in contemporary Boston and my heroine works for a high tech company. Write what you know? Contemporary world – check. Location, Boston – I visited specifically to scout out sites for events in the story, so yes, check. Job in a high tech company in my recent past? – Check. Time traveler from 1772 to the twenty-first century? Well, no. Time travel can’t happen.
But wait. If it someone could travel from the past to the present, or from the present to the past, what would the be the result? He would be out of place, unaware of everyday customs and events we take for granted. While a man from the twenty-first century who was visiting the eighteenth could probably chop wood for the fireplace, he’d be amazed at the difficulty and slow pace of travel from one place to another.
The trick to writing what you know for a time travel romance like Fighting Fate, would be to learn about the time period my character lived in, in this case the eighteenth century. The research would include discovering as much as possible about the ideas and events of the time, as well as customs and expectations, then use the information to create my character. That is, after all, what I did when I wrote my historical romances. By reading extensively I felt that I knew the people of the time period and so how they would react to a given situation. Why not use the same technique for my time travel? Made sense to me.
In Fighting Fate Andrew Byrne is a time traveler visiting the twenty-first century. In his own time the year is 1772. His home is in pre-revolutionary Boston. He doesn’t know that he and like-minded others will soon rebel against the British. He doesn’t know that there will be a long and bitter war. Or what the result will be. But Faith Hamilton, living in the twenty-first century knows. And that knowledge makes Andrew’s visit to her time period very complicated, causing Faith no end of trouble. To make sure Andrew not only copes with modern technologies like computers and cars, but doesn’t learn too much about the crucial events he will soon be involved with in his own time, Faith enlists the aid of co-worker Cody Simpson. And that is when the romance . . . and the fun . . . begins.
Write what you know. Hmmmm. Maybe that grade 10 English teacher was on to something.
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