Write What You Know? Well, Not Quite

Write What You Know? Well, Not Quite, guest post by Earl Javorsky

Ever been to jail? Rome? A remote island off the coast of Argentina? Driven a tank? How are you going to take that experience and transform it into material for your novel?
Write What You Know? Well, Not Quite, guest post by Earl Javorsky
One of the first things I had to learn as a writer is that simply retelling something as it “happened in real life” doesn’t cut it in fiction. I put that in quotes because I can recall writers in workshops responding to critiques by saying, “but that’s how it happened.” The trouble is, that’s great for journalism, or writing a memoir, but fiction has a larger requirement for voice, and voice has to be established from the start—long before the “true story” makes its entrance. And that voice is going to determine how that true story is told, and the events have to be true to the character that’s already been established. Why? Because in good fiction, character drives action, and the character I create may not have the same thoughts or react in the same way as the character in the event as it actually happened.
So, in my book Down Solo, Charlie Miner goes to the Los Angeles County Jail. Now, I’ve been there, and certain events came to mind to use in the novel, but if I told them as they really happened they would look like they were shoehorned in. Charlie Miner’s internal experience of and reactions to events and other people are different from mine. It would have been a jarring change in voice to give Charlie my experiences, so instead I used what I could—the environment, the inmates, the guards, the bus ride—and invented Charlie’s experience.
Well, okay, I lied. In another book, called Trust Me, I have a character who is largely modeled after me, and that makes plagiarizing my past fair game. Back in the ’80s, when I lived on Crazy Street, I had a girlfriend who ingested a massive amount of LSD and wound up attracting the police. I had been awake for days and was pretty much trapped in a bedroom with a large amount of money and drugs, plus a gun and a triple-beam scale. The entire event reads like fiction when told as it happened, but still: Narrative voice had already been established, and the telling of that experience had to be consistent.
I spent over fifteen years trying to make it as a musician in Los Angeles. I financed the effort by what I jokingly refer to rising to middle management in the chemical entertainment industry, a euphemism for being in the drug trade. Yes, I traveled to Europe and Hawaii, played in nightclubs, and had some fun, but the last few years were dreadful and pathetic. However, the wealth of material I gathered—the wild characters and bizarre events, the giddy highs and incomprehensible lows—translates nicely into fiction. I just have to craft it in such a way that each bit of the past that I use serves the novel, and, ultimately, the reader, rather than making the novel a vehicle for recollections of my personal history.

Write What You Know? Well, Not Quite, guest post by Earl Javorsky
Daniel Earl Javorsky was born in Berlin and immigrated to the US. He has been, among other things, a delivery boy, musician, product rep in the chemical entertainment industry, university music teacher, software salesman, copy editor, proofreader, and author of two previous novels, Down Solo and Trust Me.
He is the black sheep of a family of high artistic achievers.

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  1. Interesting post. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Incidentally, the first Charlie Miner book, DOWN SOLO, is available free on iTunes and Amazon (https://tinyurl.com/y6vmfm5a)



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