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5 Tips to Help You Write What You Don’t Know

Searching for ‘writing advice’ in Google returns 303 million results, much of it reminding aspiring writers to stay within their comfort zones by telling stories containing only the themes they are at least familiar with.

I suppose it makes sense to learn how to walk before you can run but if all you ever do is walk and shy away from the possibility of failure, how can you hope to become that which you aspire to be?

Writing what you don’t know broadens your horizons. It forces you to draw from the experiences of others in order to advance your own ability. And it’s easier than you might think.

Here are five tips to help you along in your journey to tell adventurous stories.

1. Ignore (Most) Quotable Writing Advice

The problem I see with relying too heavily on such popular and nebulous teachings as, ‘Kill your darlings’ and ‘Start en medias res’ is that it reinforces an overrepresented gold standard of writing.

Such advice is appropriately discussed and dissected in Susan Defreitas’ article about The Ten Worst Pieces of Writing Advice You Will Ever Hear (and Probably Already Have), and I highly recommend this for further reading.

2. Embrace the Unpredictably and Anxiety

There is such a thing as, ‘Happy accidents’. These are the unintentional elements that creep into the story through little lightbulb moments that make it something it never could have been had you tried for a hundred years.

You can’t plan for them. You can’t force them. They just happen and when they do, the process of writing becomes a special kind of cathartic art form.

It’s the magic we all look for and if you go off on a tangent so much the better.

3. Consume Unfamiliar Media

When I started work on writing a about German hackers or a TV pilot for a sci-fi film project, I knew I would have to get myself up to speed with these genres and those like them to weave a degree of authenticity into the end result.

So that’s what I did. I read up on the circumstances that lead to the Great War and World War II before delving into tenuous relationships of the Cold War.

I also made an effort to go see a ton of sci-fi films and I got better at writing about this kind of subject matter.

4. Understand the Rules of Your World

I know I’ve touched on this before in Worldbuilding: Manufacturing Believability in Film, but I think this point is an important one and warrants retelling.

Your goal as a writer is to create a world that feels real enough to the audience that they suspend their disbelief.

To do this, you’ll need to know what physics are at play, what the political climate is like and what socio-economic factors help shape the ideals of cities and nations.

Sure, you can make it up. But it is good to be able to draw from everyday modes of thinking when you first start out, and expand your ideas from there.

5. Give Your Story Time to Breathe

I guarantee that as a writer you will hit road blocks every time you set out to type something up or jot some works down — several of them in fact.

Some will be relatively minor and work themselves out before long while others will make you want to pack it all in for a 9-5 that pays the bills.

Understand that it takes time to craft a story that both you — and this is the important part — and your audience will care about. Persevere with the elements that aren’t quite working until they fit within the context of your narrative.

Screenwriting is never easier and the time it takes to produce good work others want to read can take anywhere from a few months to a few decades. But don’t let that stop you.

At the end of the day, it’s your story. You should tell it however you want.

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  1. Experience Mining for Screenwriting | Dichosis Studios commented on November 13
    […] in general, I am going to concede here that it does have merit. Check out my other article, “5 Tips to Help You Write What You Don’t Know” for more on that before reading […]