Write What You Know: Specialisms

RoseHawkCloseUpWhen I did my A-level in English Language, my tutor wrote in my university reference that I could easily study it at degree level. Despite the fact the reference was for a BSc in Psychology. Although this was two years before I began writing novels, I loved English so much, I had to flip a coin to decide between applying to study English or Psychology at University. In the end, the “practicalities” won out; that I could study English once I had a stable job in Psych.

Now I have two degrees, neither of which are English, and work in a field irrelevant to both of them.

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One of the common themes in what to study when you want to write for a living (or part of one) is to take classes. But a lot of that advice suggests studying a subject other than English or Creative Writing.

Most writers have done some studying of their native written language – but if you have a degree in biochemistry, then a novel with a main character who creates potions is so believable and easy for you to work with; compared with someone who doesn’t have that knowledge.

Annoyingly, I’ve yet to find a story or character which I can use my academic knowledge in, mostly because I don’t read or write Science Fiction, and my other degree is in Neuroscience.  And although people assume a degree in Psychology means I understand human behaviour, I would like to point out that I hated social psych, and focused on how the chemicals affect your brain connections.

But then I have hobbies; specialisms that come not through studying books and getting a piece of paper with letters on it, but through experience.

RoseHawkAvatarFalconry

I grew up visiting a place called The Hawk Conservancy Trust in Andover, Hampshire. I’ve probably visited it at least four times a year since about 1995. I must have seen over 100 flying displays, and I’ve flown a couple of Harris Hawks since I was old enough to don the glove (and I’ve done it every alternate year since).

My main writing project focuses on a young girl who is befriended by a Brahminy Kite, and has to learn to be a falconer/austringer while faced with assassination attempts and necromancy. She is supported by someone who flies falcons, and I’ve introduced other flying creatures to the world; making use of my knowledge and interests in scenarios I’ve not seen in real life.

I don’t have any qualifications in falconry, or Animal Sciences. I own one book on falcons, and have many a bird-of-prey poster and toys. More importantly, I have first hand experience of wearing a glove, holding owls and hawks, and of the feeling of bird take off from and land on that glove.

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This isn’t to say your characters must share an expertise with you. I have no experience as a necromancer. Apologies.

I’m pretty skilled at orienteering, but that’s not a “trade” and is next to useless in the stories I write.

But your hobbies and experiences can help you to give your characters a deeper motivation or just make them realistic. 

Having a character be a paleontologist because I like dinosaurs isn’t really going to work for me. But I have included information about lizards on a heath in Resilience. I could even make a character find a lizard skeleton or fossil; to use my knowledge as a plot point.

As I’m interested in astronomy, and I can sail, I could probably write a wonderful scene of navigation across an ocean by the stars; even though I’ve never sailed at night, and I’ve only sailed 5 miles to the Isle of Wight, or round a lake on a little dingy. 

You don’t have to use your interests in your writing. But don’t forget that you can. 
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