Writers are often advised to “write what you know” when starting out. It’s great advice but often misunderstood, leaving writers paralysed in their comfort zones. “Write what you know” really means you should draw upon the emotions you’ve experienced, such as love, hate, jealousy and grief. You’re not tied to the subjects and settings you’ve been through.
Yes, that means you can write what you don’t know. Indie author, Gary Corbin, did just that when he wrote his debut novel, Lying in Judgment. His story will inspire you to venture beyond your own experiences.
Gary had always known he would write stories. From a young age, he’d be swept up as his family told stories around the dinner table, campfires or over a game of cards. His mother encouraged him to develop his own storytelling talents as he grew older.
The publishing industry, however, wasn’t so encouraging. After a decade spent trying to get a traditional publishing deal, Gary began to notice the success some of his fellow writers were enjoying by going indie. He decided to explore whether it could be a viable for him, taking workshops and speaking to other writers about their experiences. However, he kept stalling.
Then, one morning, Gary woke with a realisation. If his life ended that day, he’d die with only one regret: that he’d never published a book. That day, he committed to doing it. Two months later, readers were buying his first book on Amazon.
Lying in Judgment has an intriguing premise. A man serves on the jury of a murder trial, judging another person for the crime that he himself committed. It’s told not from the point of view of a judge, lawyer, suspect or victim, but a member of the jury.
Inspiration can arrive in a moment but research takes time
Gary was first inspired to write Lying in Judgment when he got talking to a friend at a cocktail party in Washing DC. As the drinks flowed, his friend spoke of his recent jury service, in particular how the judge had ordered the jury to disregard evidence they had already heard under oath. Gary felt that would be hard to do and began to expand on the idea.
What if there were facts only one juror knew? Could he disregard it? What if he was there when the crime took place? What if he actually committed the crime? Gary knew he was on to something and picked murder as the crime because he considered it the most heinous and felt it would be the most troubling for the protagonist.
There was just one problem. Gary was not a lawyer and he was about to write a legal thriller. He needed to be able to write what he didn’t know. Rather than see this as a barrier, he simply saw it as a challenge. He overcame it by reading legal thrillers to understand the genre, enlisted the support of experts including a former courtroom prosecutor, attended workshops and researched books on forensics, police procedurals and so on.
Research boosted his confidence and, after investing time developing his plot, his scenes, character development and dialogue came more easily. Eventually, his story was complete.
You can write what you don’t know too
Lying in Judgment has been receiving some great reviews from readers. One even said “the courtroom scenes were some of the most authentic and well written that I have come across.”
Gary is testament that you can write what you don’t know, even as your first novel. Follow the nose of your curiosity, be patient and do you research then you’ll soon be on your way to writing a story that will convince readers. Just be careful not to let your prose sound like a thesis. The aim is authenticity.
Have you written a book about something you didn’t have a clue about before you started? Share your experiences in the comments below and inspire other writers to do the same.