So we started this series off with a blinking cursor.
We’ve learned that writing can be a chore, there’s a difference between writing and storytelling, we’ve figured out why we want to write, and we’ve bragged to everyone we know that we’re gong to write a book.
Only to be brought back to that blinking, taunting cursor.
Blink, blink, blink…
What do you write? It’s like when you were in grade school and you had one sheet of paper and a Crayon. What was it you asked yourself or those around you? What should I draw?
That was the big question of your young life.
And now as you sit before a blank Word document, you’re constantly asking yourself, What should I write. I love this comment Tylowery of the blog, “Secrets in the City” wrote in a previous post:
You’ve heard it said to write what you know.
That’s true. But that also kind of stinks. Because what I know isn’t really all that exciting. I grew up in suburban America where I spent my time mountain biking and playing roller hockey just like every other boy in the country. And The Wonder Years has already been told.
And back when I was developing my first novel I worked as a bookseller at Barnes and Noble.
Nothing much exciting there.
Not to downplay my life – I love it, actually. But not much to write home about – or write a book about, for that matter.
So sticking with the theme of write what you know, I wrote about how I felt about my mundane and anti-climatical existence.
I created a character, Robbie, who’s just like me but about fifteen years older and still stuck in the same uneventful life I felt I was in.
And I gave him an out.
I provided him with a box that he could climb in and appear in a fantasy world of his making anytime he wanted. And honestly, my book became my box. I would escape to it when I needed a break from reality. (Luckily the characters didn’t start crawling out of my book and threaten to kill me and my wife like they do from Robbie’s box.)
But here’s the thing you need to walk away with. Yes, write what you know. But make it interesting. Flip things on their head. Look at life from a different perspective. Or like Mr. Keating says in Dead Poets Society, “I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.”
How did I come up with the idea for The Man in the Box?
Well, as I said before, I worked at Barnes and Noble during the time. I was the head of the children’s department. And throughout the day I had to go back to the shipping room to retrieve more books to carry out on the floor.
I read a lot of those children’s books while I stood back there waiting for customers to walk past. So I was constantly diving into fantasy worlds during my dull job. And the shipping room was constantly full of boxes. So I put the two together.
Twain wrote about what he knew about the deep south. Dickens created fantasy worlds out of the slums of London. And I can’t imagine any scene duller than Depression-era Salinas Valley California, but Steinbeck used it in many of his beloved masterpieces.
If you’re creating a fantasy world that’s set far from our world, make absolutely sure to relate it tour world. Tie your personal life, feelings, emotions, to that world so that we can relate to it.
Write what you know. Take this advice with a grain of salt, then run with it. Don’t be afraid to tweak what you know. Simba only knew life in Africa. But watch the scene in The Lion King when he sings “I Just Can’t Wait to be King.” All the colors change, the style is dramatized; it’s a completely different, unique, and interesting world, because it’s Africa through his cub-like eyes.
Show us this old, tattered, familiar world through your eyes. How do you see life? What’s a hero to you? What makes a bad guy bad? What’s your biggest fear, and why should your readers be afraid of it, too?
If I may, think outside the box.
(Like my book The Man in the Box on Facebook for updates on the upcoming second edition, and earn a chance to win a free autographed copy.)