History is full of authors who stretched the limits of their own knowledge, of those who wrote from their backyard experiences, and those who dreamed worlds into being. So what does it take to make print come to life? A love for writing, practice in the art of creating, and a vivid imagination housed between one’s ears.
Recently I listened to some presenters say “write what you know” – which is a wonderful piece of advice. But ‘what one knows’ may be very different if seen through various lenses.
Sifting through memories, experiences, and yesterday’s local newspaper provided inspiration for authors like Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, & Charlotte Bronte. Of Jane Austen’s work, Charlotte Bronte said that it was, “An accurate daguerreotype portrait of a commonplace face…she does her business of delineating the surface of the lives of genteel English people curiously well.” Austen herself said she would write “such pictures of domestic Life in Country Villages as I deal in.” Charlotte Bronte took pieces of her own life to create her suspenseful novel Jane Eyre and Charles Dickens wrote his best novels when they were placed in his hometown of London. They didn’t sneak into the past or jump to the future, and still – their works are brilliant and colorful masterpieces that have withstood the review of time.
Then there are authors who stretch what they ‘know’ into history. Historical fiction writers take trials, emotions, and situations from today and place them into a certain slice of history, weaving details of bygone days through the lives of fictional and nonfictional characters alike. Most historical authors dive into a time period and become experts on the details of that period: the dress, food, speech, and so much more – it becomes what they know. The best historical fiction is written by people who mentally live in another time & place for part of their lives. Philippa Gregory is one of the best-known historical novelists today, but there are many others. Pick the era you want to read and your reading palate will be deliciously satisfied with a variety of literary menu items.
Other historical fiction authors include Erich Maria Remarque, Mark Twain, Mary Renault – and more recent authors like Julie Lessman, Mary Connealy, Siri Mitchell, Bodie & Brock Theone, Francine Rivers, Linore Burkard, and Janette Oake.
Finally there is fiction that soars beyond time and space. A special kind of knowledge invented in the minds of the dreamer, an imagination beyond a box of linear expectations –so to speak. Jules Verne, the science fiction pioneer and mastermind who sent readers Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea or journeying To the Center of the Earth, or J.R.R Tolkien who breathed life into Hobbits and swelled the lands of MiddleEarth with his pen, envisioned worlds beyond the natural eye and magic beyond the human touch. Visionaries such as these, continue to capture us or invite us into realms of fairies, giants, and dragons – or aliens, dinosaurs, vampires, and ghosts. Stephen Lawhead, Lloyd Alexander, C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, J.K. Rowling, and Rick Riordan, to name very few, offer glimpses into their imaginations and introduce us to memorable beings that physically exist only on paper. Absorbed and inspired into these worlds, the authors transform what they know of human nature, science, and history, and then add a palette of imagination to birth marvelous, believable adventures.
Which type of author are you? The beauty of it is you don’t have to pick just one category, but can blend the today-knowing with the yesterday-knowing and the dream-knowing to build novels that inspire, teach, educate, and entertain. Each good writer holds to this writer’s trinity: What you know, what you WANT to know, and a dream. Bind them together and end in a story.