#WritingRambles #amwriting – Writing “What You Know?”

Good Morning, Folks!

It’s a lovely, sunny Sunday in central Florida, after a drizzly, gray Saturday. Happily, yesterday’s weather didn’t stop anyone from attending my talk on Owls at the gorgeous DeBary Hall Historic Mansion.

In fact, we had four extras show up, but had plenty of open space at the back of the room to accommodate them at a safe distance from everyone else. And as you can see from this week’s header image above, I’m still in an owlish kinda mood. (This is a barred owl, btw, my favorite of all.) And talking about these wonderful birds yesterday, gave me the idea for this post today.Β 

We’re often encouraged or advised to “write what we know,” and in general, I tend to do that, as all of my books are set in the southern part of the United States (just as *I* am), and feature the kinds of people I’ve known all my life. (Except for the serial killer in Swamp Ghosts. I confess, I’ve known some unpleasant folks over the years, but none that I know of have ever gone so far as to kill people and feed ’em to the local alligators! πŸ˜‰ )

But, in general, I do write people I understand and who speak in a manner I’m familiar with. I also go a step farther by including habitats and wildlife I’m familiar with, too. I like to set up a scene so that readers will feel like they’re “there” along with the characters. For me, this can include describing a canoe trip on the St. John’s river, or a walk through a Florida wetlands area, or a slippery climb down a rock face beside a North Carolina waterfall. I think many of us do this when setting up a scene, and if done well, I believe (hope!) it makes it all more real to readers. But I want to take it a step farther today.

Here’s my question for you: do you ever include things from your real life that only your friends or family would likely recognize? Maybe as a private joke, or maybe simply because whatever it is happens to fit well with what you’re writing? I do, even though I don’t set out with that in mind. It’s just that as I’m typing along, I think of a familiar item or happening, or even a line of dialogue, that is part of my life in one way or another, and find myself including it.

For example, in Swamp Ghosts, one of my secondary (but pretty important) characters is Lester Purvis who drives an ancient, primer red and gray, 1967 VW bus. I’m very familiar with this bus, as is everyone who knows Mark and I, because it’s parked in our garage. My husband has had it since the early 80s, and, like Lester, has always planned to restore it to its former glory. (He drives it for short errands on the weekends, and can’t stop at a traffic light without someone pulling up beside it and yelling out to ask if it’s for sale.) You would be staggered to know how much he’s been offered for it, even with all the body work it needs. Apparently, being the last year they made VWs with the split windshield gives it some serious collectability.Β 

(Taken many years ago. Nothing much has changed.)

The VW is one of the more obvious personal tidbits I’ve tucked into my books, just for fun, but I find myself drawing on small events and funny moments from my own life fairly often. I’ve also mentioned a real person now and then, like my friend Bev who owns the DeBary Nursery, where my character Willow Greene likes to buy plants for her herb garden. Heck, even the barred owl that greets Sarah on her arrival at Wake-Robin Ridge is taken from my life. Everything is fair game, I figure, as long as it doesn’t violate anyone’s privacy, and it actually fits into the moment I’m writing about. (Bev was thrilled, btw. She sells my books at her shop and one of her customers who’d bought a copy of Finding Hunter from her returned to get Bev’s autograph after reading the scene! πŸ˜€ )

So, your turn now. Have you ever included something of this nature in your own books? Maybe as a little nod to a friend or family member? Or just to make yourself smile as you’re writing? Tell us about it in the comments below, since, as always, inquiring minds wanna know. Especially if you’ve ever included any private jokes or situations that only some would recognize.Β 

Thanks! And have a beautiful, peaceful, productive day! πŸ™‚

38 thoughts on “#WritingRambles #amwriting – Writing “What You Know?”

  1. Ah, the VW… I didn’t notice at the time of reading Swamp Ghosts, because that was before the hurricane brought your ownership of the vehicle to my attention, but now you mention it…
    I included a lot of personal stuff in ‘Desprite Measures’. I’ll never be an elemental sprite, but Cassie shares many of my tastes, coincidentally at that time in VW cars! All the venues the action takes place in, are places I know well, and I’m pretty sure she sounds quite a lot like me!

    Liked by 2 people

    • That certainly gave you lots of chances to use what you knew so well, especially in dialogue. Any private “jokes” or mentions that only a few would connect with? Just curious.

      And I’d forgotten that I mentioned Victor Willie (yes, he names all his vehicles) when the hurricane hit us. It was a miracle that he’d moved it to the side of the garage that wasn’t leveled. So, Victor Willie rides again! (Forever, apparently.) πŸ˜€

      Thanks for stopping by, Debby.

      Liked by 2 people

    • We all do to an extent, I agree. Some parts of us or our personalities or our actual lives are bound to show up here or there. Do you ever include any that only certain folks would recognize? Any private jokes or the like?

      And thanks for stopping by today, Jan! πŸ™‚

      Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve done it several times, and the feedback I get is always fun. You should have heard Mark’s exclamation when he was reading Swamp Ghosts and got to the part about Lester. I think that’s when he decided not to read any more of my books. πŸ˜€ Seriously, he does NOT enjoy fiction and really couldn’t get into any of them. But he did YELP when I described that “primer red and gray VW.” πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a great post, Marcia. I’d love to be at one of your nature talks. I know so little about birds, and yet I live in an area where they are ever-present. As for the bits and pieces, yes, when it fits or helps the story. Friends and family are great sources for names, though I never use both first and last names. I can’t recall inserting something that only my inner circle would know, but it sounds like something fun to try! πŸ’—

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Gwen. It would be wonderful to have you at one of my talks. I have to admit, I felt very nervous yesterday because I’m out of practice after pretty much everything was cancelled for 2020. But the audience seemed to enjoy themselves, and the gal who “runs” the guest program said she loved it. So I hope no one was disappointed.

      I usually go to old southern cemeteries and the like for my surnames in my books, though I do draw on some familiar first names now and then. I don’t know any Jacksons, Forrests, or Hunters, though, nor to I know any Maggies or Willows. Nor Sarahs nor MacKenzies. And I for sure don’t know any little boys named Rabbit. πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ But even if I don’t go to my memory banks for many names, I do think of little tidbits as I’m writing and decide on the spur of the moment to add them. The staid and quiet MacKenzie Cole getting caught playing air guitar comes to mind, though I doubt the guy I caught doing so will ever read one of my books, so I’m safe on that one. I think. πŸ˜€ Words and phrases I hear around me, or that are running jokes in our family, pop up pretty often, though.

      Thanks so much for stopping by Gwen, and just let me know when you’re coming to one of the talks. I’ll save you a seat right down front! πŸ˜€ ❀

      Liked by 1 person

  3. My daughter-in-law loves VWs and even had an old camper van exported from South America, forget which country, where the dry heat apparently preserves them well. Now it is with an expert restorer to be turned into an ice cream van for their events business! This was all took quite a while, but its arrival was not long before Covid, so everything has come to a halt, including their events business. Luckily they both do building work as well!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Aw, it’s a shame that COVID brought a halt to their plans–and to so many other things, too. Such a HORRIBLE disease!! Hopefully, things will be getting better throughout the year, though it doesn’t look like it’s going to magically disappear yet. I wish them good luck with the project. BTW, Mark’s van was never stored anywhere that I know. It was in use right up until he bought it, and he’s always kept it running, in spite of the fact that it “ain’t purty.” (Yet.) πŸ˜€

      Thanks for stopping by, Janet! πŸ™‚

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Great post, Marcia:) There is a lot of forest and ocean in my stories, or my two favorite places to be. Yes, I leave little messages for family especially my husband.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Writing about our favorite places is so much fun, isn’t it? My very favorite place to be is the North Carolina mountains, which is why my first book (which I figured would be my ONLY book) was set there. Even though I’m a Florida native, I love those mountains more than I can say. I do truly love the wildlife in Florida, so that gives me something I can enjoy including in my Riverbend books, too. But best of all are the little “messages,” jokes, or tidbits that will only pop out to those “in the know.” πŸ˜€ Glad to know you do those, too. πŸ˜€

      Thanks so much for stopping by today, Denise! πŸ™‚

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Enjoyed the post, Marcia. I owned a 1979Toyota FJ 40 at the time I write my first book. I had to include it in that first one. It has made subsequent appearances in the others, but now that it is no longer with me, I stopped using it. I sneak stuff into my books all the time. Most no one would notice. My daughter did call me on one that was a family joke so I felt good about that. Have a geat week.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ever slip in something only a good friend or family member would pick up on? I find that to be a lot of fun, though I never set out to do it deliberately. It’s usually something that pops into my mind as I’m writing, and I just go with it.

      Thanks for stopping by, Yvette. It’s fun learning more about other writers and they way they go about the process. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve done this, too. My grandmother was a great teller of stories. She used to regale us kids around kitchen tables, campfires, and anywhere we all got together. Stuttering Lewis from my pirate stories came from one of her tales. He was a real man, and was the first policeman killed in the line of duty in tiny little Elko, Nevada.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I don’t think I’ve ever created a character that was mostly based on a real person, but I often do a mash-up of traits from a couple of real people I know combined into one. I think that’s probably how we come up with many of our characters, though. Your use of your grandmother’s tales was inspired! πŸ™‚

      Thanks for stopping by, Craig! πŸ™‚

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I think when we include some personal or unique tidbits, it adds authenticity to our stories.

    In my current WIP, I’ve included an amusing scene where the MC has issues with touchscreens at a supermarket check-out … read, yours truly. I’ve never yet met anyone who has the issues I have with some touchscreens. They hate me lols. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, I love that one, Harmony! I have a few things like that I may have to use one day, too. I have included some of my fears (and loves) in my books. For instance, I had a horror of falling out of my canoe and into our dark (nearly black) river waters that are so heavily stained with tannic acid. I decided to give it to Gunnar Wolfe in Swamp Ghosts, thinking it would be more fun for the big, strong “Viking” of a man to be worried about falling into that water than for my heroine, Maggie, to be worried about it. (To be fair to me, this particular fear never stopped me from canoeing hundreds of miles on our rivers, scared of that water or not.)

      I’m glad you shared today, Harmony! Thanks so much for stopping by! πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  8. One of the gentle carers in my first books is called Jagdish and when my daughter questioned if the name existed I was able to tell her that the entire character did. Having been bulied by someone called Angela as a child I could never allocate that name to a character I liked. Jagdish apart, my books are peopled with hybrids of past acquaintances and I don’t think anyone would recognise themselves.
    Sounds like you had a great time at DeBary Hall πŸ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

    • Very interesting, Trish. I usually don’t have anyone specific in mind when I create a character, though I frequently give them little personality “tics” or speech patterns of those I’ve known. I’m more apt to include an event that really happened, like the tree climbing turtle that fell into Maggie and Gunn’s canoe with a “crack” like a gunshot, startling them both. That did happen to me, and was when I first learned that our little “stinkpot” turtles are excellent climbers and often end up sunning themselves on branches 5′ or 6′ above the water. I remember how I reacted (nearly fell out of the canoe) and thought it would be fun.

      I’m enjoying seeing how everyone incorporates slices of life or habits of people they know into their work. Thanks so much for stopping by today! πŸ™‚


  9. Great post Marcia. I like to start by writing what I know and blend it with what I’d like to know and what I research. This is an educational exercise, but can also necessitate validation of information that I include from my research. In my first detective book, for example, I had my main character using a handgun and I stated that he turned off the safety. One of my beta readers who was an ex-police officer let me know that the gun I specified didn’t have a safety. I was able to correct it in time and now ‘I know’ this fact. I’m going to share this great post over on my blog.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, great catch on his part! That’s the kind of error I’m always dreading, too, Don. I know my limitations when it comes to areas I’m familiar with. But I have to do plenty of research on other fields. Especially anything legal, like adoption laws in North Carolina and the like. I even had to look up state and county laws on whether it was legal to bury someone on private property.

      So often I’m reading books that include nature scenes and they have descriptions and the like of animals or animal behavior that are just plain wrong. It pulls me right out of the story, and I think to myself how easy it would have been in today’s world to check those facts before writing them. (It’s not like we even have to trek down to the public library anymore.) Good for you for being able to fix that error and for realizing that research is our friend! πŸ™‚

      And thanks for stopping by today! πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  10. All. The. Time. The Coletta men have a wicked sense of humor. I’m constantly jotting down their one-liners for certain characters. Works great for an endless supply of comic relief. I’ve also snuck in a private nod to a friend. I can’t remember which book it is, but the words are: partner in crime, which happened to be the name of our podcast at the time. And…I’ve murdered real people (with written permission).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Okay, I was reading and nodding, and reading and nodding–until that last line! πŸ˜€ Holy Moly! Murdering real people, eh? But then, why am I not surprised that you would think of something like that, Sue? I love how your mind operates!

      Honestly, I am working on getting over my aversion to books that deal with lots of murder and mayhem, just so I can start reading more of your work. I’m missing out on good writing, here! Though it isn’t just murder, really. I don’t read much that feels too real right now, hiding my head in a sand pile of fantasy these days. But I really am working on it.

      Glad to know you (like me) remember and use those lines and phrases we hear around us in real life. Some of them are just too good to ignore, and add a lot of fun to our books. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment on this topic.

      Liked by 1 person

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