Whether as a young boy you are assembling a model, a chef preparing the evening’s menu, or some haggard woman with a wart on her nose stirring a brew in the deep forest, all are working on assembling that final outcome.
The same is true of the author—assembling ideas, arranging notes, plotting the storyline, creating outlines. But the true magic of the author is not the mechanics of writing per se, but all of the inspirational and experiential tidbits that are thrown in the pot and stirred gently.
The mantra, Write What You Know, is misleading at best. Any storyline can and should possess things that you know about yourself—your reactions, your suspicions, your fears, your desires, your favorites, and so on. Your life is filled with inspiration from things you have witnessed, books you have read, movies and plays you have watched, and music you have listened to. You have driven on a dark stormy night. You have heard the cracking of thunder. You have awakened at night frightened at a sound you have heard or thought you heard. You have held and smelled a baby, you have wept over a calamity, you have cried with joy. All of that, and much more, is within you, the cabinet from which that vital ingredient can be added to your story.
And there are these little anchors which we can apply. Tangible things from our memories or our desires that can be inserted. I call them anchors, for they can become identified with and anchored to the story or to a character in the story. Anyone can write a fresh story about Santa Clause, but I would hope that they bring the anchors of his great belly, his bushy beard, his red suit, sleigh, and reindeer with him. A fresh story attempted about a skinny Santa wearing black, driving a sedan might play out, but it might run into trouble. Who is James Bond without a martini, shaken but not stirred? Who is Superman without a red cape?
One of my favorite authors, Wilbur Smith, utilizes anchors, such as settings in Africa, and a little prop that always seems to pop up, a cheroot for the character to smoke. Stephen King’s anchors are obvious, such as the continual setting of Maine in his stories and the frequent resurgence of Castle Rock.
I draw up my experiences growing up, wordworking with my father, my first cup of coffee, all the coffee ever since, my time in the Marine Corps and my faith in God. Airplanes were very important in my early imagination and often find a role in something I am writing. I also bring in a minimalist approach to technology, such as flip phones, cars and trucks without all the gadgets and chrome. Give me a black mat dash with round gages and flip switches anyday. Even the guns I choose, like writing about Sheriff Woods in Are We Monsters? and Virgin Birth, would be considered simple, opting for single-action handguns and repeater rifles like a Winchester. None of my heroes would wield an assault rifle.
So write about whatever you want to write about. What’s important is what you add to your story, drawn from your cabinet of experience and inspiration. That’s what will bring your story to life and connect with your readers.