Creative writing can be narrowed down to three basics: experience or knowledge, imagination, and mechanics. Even the youngest writer has a history of experiences – funny, scary, sad, or exciting ones. Our own lives are full of stories begging to amuse, amaze, inspire, sadden, horrify, or grab readers through memoirs or fiction. From the beginning we are strongly encouraged to “write what you know” and “show, don’t tell,” of which the former is easy, but the latter takes lots of practice.
“What you know” does not have to be an actual experience. It can be anything you have thoroughly researched and studied to the point of expertise. You might come up with a very clever plot involving some historical or scientific facts, which can be easily found online and/or in libraries. The plethora of information, available to everyone, is obviously an extraordinary tool worth utilizing. In some instances, you may know or could seek out an expert on any given subject. Serious writers do not try to wing it.
When it comes to reality-based fiction, what you do not want to do is leave it up to your imagination or cursory knowledge. If you are going to write about science* or history, much research must be involved. Ian Fleming’s books were based on the cold war era and spying. Many of 007’s scientific tools and gadgets became reality years later. As for his super-enemy counterparts, they had genetic, psychological, physical, and/or steroidal issues and enhancements. His romantic interests? Well, those were pure fantasy. 🙂
Of all the writing genres, only science fiction and fantasy have no limits. This genre has exploded in the past thirty years with writers who have gone wilder than ever before. Nowhere else can a writer’s imagination take off and create extraordinary new “realities” and worlds. What never changes, however, are the emotions, dialogue, motivations, and morals of their characters. Even in sci-fi and fantasy, basic human characteristics are transferred into alien, abnormal, inhuman, and undead forms. Why? Because we, the writers, are human. And, until some giant insect comes to my front door and hands me a book it has written, that will remain the finite reality.
Lastly, as you surely are aware, all the experience/knowledge and imagination in the world will do you little good if you cannot put words together in the correct manner that makes your writing flow. That is where style, grammar, punctuation, and spelling – the mechanics – come into play. By all means, write to your heart’s content, but editing out mistakes and inconsistencies is essential. When in doubt, refer back to your reference books, English professor, or reliable critiquer. Very, very seldom is there a letter-perfect first draft; rewriting is a given in the writing process. And, remember: Not every phrase or sentence you write will be a gem.
TIP #1: Besides dictionaries, three essential books to keep close at hand are: STOP,LOOK, AND WRITE! by Hart Day Leavitt and David A. Sohn; SHOW, DON’T TELL by William Noble; and The Elements of Style by Wm. Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White. Whenever you feel stymied or that you aren’t getting something across in the right way (clear and precise), going back to one of these basic reference books is always helpful.
TIP #2: Also, when you come across an author who impresses and easily engages you, it might be a good idea to keep that book for a second or third read. From reading comes better writing.
*”Science” refers to any science that may be part of a plot or a character – forensics, physics, geography, psychology, archaeology, biology, pharmacology, etc.