What You Know

What You Know

Most have heard this advice about writing: Write what you know.

For new writers, especially younger ones, this is a confusing bit of advice. You want to write a mystery novel involving a murder set in Rome. Your mind is full of the plugs you’ll have: “International intrigue!” “Globe-trotting Sleuth!” But, then you heard someone say you should write what you know. CRASH! BURN! You’ve never been to Rome. You’ve never committed a murder. You have no experience in crime detection and investigation. Huh?

Here’s the truth. “Write what you know,” is a blow-off line. Incomplete. Inaccurate. It’s the advice you get from someone who just wants to cut you off at the knees. Why? Because you know a lot more than you think. Or–well–you will know a lot more. Follow me on this.


SettingOkay, you haven’t been to Rome. Big deal. Maps, Google, your browser, the library, bookstores, and other resources can get you all the information you need to create a setting sketch and write believable scenes set in Rome. Some writers use those travel guides they find in bookstores that provide details on restaurants, sights, events, and customs of a place like Rome or other cities.

The US State Department has information online for potential travelers for almost every destination on the planet. Here’s the link to information on the Holy See (Vatican City) in Rome. It also provides access to the CIA World Factbook for further information on the Holy See. If you want in-depth information, the State Department and the CIA are great resources. They are free. I don’t know if you can get access outside the US.

I used Google Maps and Street View as I worked through settings in Sudden Mission. I’d track where my characters would be on Google Maps, then drop down to Street View to see what they would see as they went down a specific street or highway. Near St. Louis, MO,  is a town named Edwardsville, IL. I know nothing about this town. I studied the maps carefully, looking for a route around St. Louis and across the Mississippi River. Edwardsville was a good find. I had my characters going up a residential street there just as I dumped a plague of frogs on them.

This image on the right is that street in Edwardsville, IL. This kind of tool makes it possible to describe a place accurately and realistically. I just added frogs. I used the scene to describe what happened in the novel and it added realism and authenticity. You’d never know I’ve never been to Edwardsville. Ever.

I wrote Sudden Mission in 2012, so I had to use Google Maps with Adobe Flash (Bad JuJu) installed on my system. When I didn’t need it any more, I took Flash off. Fortunately, Flash is no longer required. Most browsers support the protocols to render Street View correctly.

Setting Sketch and Research Section

The setting sketch provided in Scrivener’s templates can contain a lot of details you gather from the above resources.

In the research section of your project binder, you can add folders and documents, then cut and paste entire web pages or just links and references. This is handy. You can refer back to the items in your research section to verify details or facts. Keep links related to your work in progress from the US State Department and CIA World Factbook in folders here. Don’t be afraid to use the Factbook. It’s paid for by the US taxpayer and published for your benefit. As for Google Maps, take screen shots of your key places and save them in your research section.

Now, as for the murder. Do some research on crime scene investigation (not by watching TV). You want to avoid the CSI Effect. Research the law, police procedures, crime scene and evidence collection, evidentiary processes, custody of evidence, and anything else relevant. Since you set your crime in Rome, you’ll also want to check out law enforcement cooperation and investigation across international boundaries. Much of this information is found online with some searching. Here’s a Wikipedia link to get you started.

When you find something, dump the link, page, information into a document in your research section.

The key to remember is that nothing is ever as simple or straightforward as it might at first seem.

Oh fun, you say.

Keep writing.





I mentioned last week that Scrivener has templates for characters and settings to help you keep track of details.

Selecting a projectWhen you set up your project you choose the kind of project it will be. In this image I selected Fiction, and i have the choice of Scrivener setting up a n0vel, a novel with parts, or a short story. When I select novel, Scrivener sets up the basic format for manuscript and paperback layouts, as well as the front matter (title pages, cover, copyright). It even sets up a folder for Novel Projectresearch, where you can keep notes, references, and other material you will need as you go along. In the second image, I show the chapters and a few scenes and how to set up the work area. Here, I used the structure of the chapter/scene in the layout to create my basic outline. Each scene has a brief description of what would happen at that point.

At the bottom of the column on the left, there are templates for the character sketch and setting sketch. These are basic sketches and designed to give you a place to keep details of character and setting. Since my first two novels are not historical, I didn’t need Charactersextensive setting sketches. For the second novel, I used a lot of online resources, maps and building plans for the Washington, DC, locations.

Character, though, was something I spent more time developing. The sketch Scrivener provided was a great start to fleshing out my characters. I’ve since figured out a more dynamic method of character development, but I still use the sketches in Scrivener to keep track of details. That’s important as you go from one book to another and carry forward characters.

SettingAs mentioned, I didn’t make extensive use of the setting sketch. However, it is a good outline to keep handy if you’re working in a specific, rich, and detailed setting, or more than one setting. I spent more time on Google, Google Maps, satellite images, and other resources and would make my description before moving on. In Sudden Mission, that worked best because I didn’t intend for the characters to return to those sites later. Not practical filling out a dozen or more setting sketches for one time use.

However, in Nasty Leftovers, I did have my characters spend a lot of time in Washington, DC. I probably should have used setting sketches. They could have helped clear up some confusion in the editing process. Still, the imagery of an empty, toxic, DC was not hard to describe.

In book number 3 of this series, I’m pretty much laying waste to North Carolina. I just need to remember which bridges we’re blowing up. Also, in this series, I created this community vaguely on the east side of Raleigh, NC. I’m purposely trying to keep it vague and unidentifiable. I’m not sure why, but if I’m cornered, I’ll probably come up with something.

Keep writing.






NaNoWriMo 2016 is over, the end of the year holidays are here. I’m working through the last of the chapters of my “work in progress” and revising the story. This has been an interesting project and North Carolina will never be the same.

This work, with the working title of Alien Alliance, will be the last in the Spirit Missions series, so I have to make certain that I wrap up all the little nuanced loose ends I left in Sudden Mission and Nasty Leftovers.

All the action in this new book takes place in North Carolina and a little in Virginia. Zombies in Asheville, aliens in Raleigh, and the end of humanity as we know it just hours away. Jealousy, anger, love, joy, pain, and desperation, all play out in the story. So, I’ll soon have to write the cover blurb and include all that in just a few sentences.

Merry Christmas

I will probably not post again until after Christmas. I’m working on the book, getting some other projects done, and spending time with the family.

I also selected a new site theme. As I tweak this and get it working, let me know what you think of it. Getting a theme, with colors, font, layout, and widgets, all organized takes a little time. The basic theme is in place and most of my standard widgets are there. I just need to make sure it is all working and set up correctly.

So, if something isn’t behaving correctly, post a note and I’ll get right on it.

Thanks for your support this year and following along on this blog. It has been an interesting year.

I hope you and yours have a blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Keep writing.






Today I passed the 50,000 word mark and am now an official NaNoWriMo 2016 winner! My word count for November 29 is 1,816. My daily average was 1,751. The total word count uploaded for the win today: 50,793.

The first draft is not finished, though. There are a couple of chapters yet to write as there is still one more problem/conflict to manage.

My personal goal for this project was about 60,000 words. I suspect I’ll meet that–or, be close–in the next few days. I’ll finish this draft soon, as this last bit will not need tons of writing.

I even have an epilogue.

This process was fun. There were days where it was difficult to get any words written, but I kept at it. That’s where the value of NaNoWriMo is. It gives me a structure, a deadline, to work in. I have daily goals to meet. I get support from friends on Twitter and Facebook.

Best of all, I get a first draft at the end.

Believe me, this is a very rough first draft. I’ve already gone back over several chapters and rewritten or added some material. You’re not supposed to do that in NaNoWriMo, but I did. You’re supposed to just keep charging ahead. I did keep charging ahead, but I found I kept forgetting something and had to go back and add it. Or, maybe I thought of something new and different for a particular place.

In any case, it all worked and I’m a day ahead of the 30-day schedule. I’m a winner. I don’t get anything for it other than improved self-esteem, congratulations from friends, and that all-important first draft.

Soon, the rest of the work begins. Editing, revision, rewriting. I want to get this ready for a good editor to look at. I think it’s a good story and I’ve learned a lot in the three NaNoWriMos I’ve participated in. A good editor will help make it a better read and a stronger story.

I hope you followed along this month. If you didn’t take part in NaNoWriMo, think about doing it next year. If you’ve wanted to write something, or you’ve been struggling to write something, this is a great way to get the first draft done.

I’ll be posting more information on the progress of this project as it moves through the process to publication. Thanks for your support and encouragement, those of you on Twitter and Facebook.

Keep writing.



Day Twenty-Two

Home Stretch

nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_participant-200This is Day Twenty-two. My word count is at 39,707 words. I wrote 3,047 words today, and I’m averaging 1,804 word per day now.

By this time next week, I should have passed the 50,000 word mark for NaNoWriMo-2016 and be well on the way to my personal goal of 60,000. Or, I’ll be done with the first draft.

Things are going along very well. I’ve done my best to lay waste to much of North Carolina (the setting), and develop my main character, Amy. I’m pretty excited about how this is working out.

Some of my writing friends on Twitter are doing well, too. I do my best to encourage and support them as we make our way through this month of writing.

It isn’t as hard as folks might think. And it is. The key is getting started. Once you start, it isn’t hard to keep going. There is the struggle each day to pull up the application and open the document and pick up where you left off. But, that just takes about a half-cup of coffee.

The other day I had this great idea for an epilogue. Yesterday I wrote the epilogue as part of my work. It gave me a finishing framework within which I’ll work the rest of the novel.

So, things are going well, even with a little travel and some interruptions. I’m on track and making progress, and within about 15,000 words of a finish.

Keep writing!