Write What you Know – Tiny Masters

Over at Creative Nonfiction there’s a great post explaining Susan Orlean’s notion of Tiny Masters.

It’s a brilliant idea and the perfect answer for writers who feel, each time they see the advice write what you know, that they don’t know ‘anything.’ In short, you probably do, you just haven’t realised it yet.

Here’s an example of how it works, taken from the Creative Nonfiction link above:

Make a list of 10 things of which you’re a master. Include talents, skills, hobbies, qualities of character. I’ve created many lists over the years, and they surprise me every time: Making enchilada sauce. Building fires. Finding beach glass. Crossing rivers. Writing thank you notes. Collecting maps. Procrastinating. Teaching tricks to my dog.

Next, you incorporate a mastery into a story or character.  It’s pretty much that easy!

Tiny Masters is useful because the kind of ‘smaller’ detail you’re using will add depth to your work, and because you the writer are confident in that mastery, your writing will naturally have an assured tone or ring of truth to it.

Now, to answer those of you thinking, ‘wait a minute, I’m writing in a speculative fiction genre and I don’t personally know anything about so and so’ (maybe it’s ‘space’) then not to worry.

One answer might be that while you don’t know a tonne about space, you do know about cooking. And so in your story, your character is a cook. Your knowledge of cooking becomes part of the authenticity, and what you choose to do with space, remains the speculative aspect.

Try it out!



How much can your verbs bench press?

You’ve heard the advice – make your verbs stronger.

Well, it is good advice. Unless you’re purposefully trying to make a character seem passive or downtrodden perhaps, you should aim for strong verbs, or certainly for variety in your verbs. Sometimes the simpler word will do – but not always.

Therese Stenzel has a useful list here. For example, take ‘sat.’ Sat could be switched for some of the words below, depending on the context. What kind of character is sitting? Where are they sitting?

Sat: eased into, settled, took, perch, plop down, relaxed into

For instance, an injured or elderly character might ‘ease into’ an armchair. By using ‘ease’ instead of sat, you’ve shown the reader something about that character. Your verb is working harder for you, its pulling its weight.

Now, some of the words on the list we’ve linked to might not always need changing. Further to this, ‘looked’ is an interesting one. Looked can impact on point of view, and act as a ‘filtering’ word. A  filtering word is something which may distance the reader from your character or action, which is not desirable.

But more on that topic next time!