Role Models for Aspiring Authors
When aspiring writers look for advice on how to guide or develop their own writing they often come across the axiom “Write what you know”, a saying attributed to both Twain and Hemingway (I have cited Twain as he was the earlier of the two writers).
As a novice writer one can understand how life experience acted as a powerful catalyst for some writers to make their work both realistic and highly detailed.
If we take the action and espionage genre of fiction, then we can see clear examples of how individuals who enjoyed careers in the intelligence community went on to write highly successful spy novels.
Ian Fleming served in the British Navy Intelligence during the second world war and his experiences were used to create the James Bond series of spy novels.
David John Cornwell (better known by his pen name John le Carré) worked in both MI5 and MI6 before writing The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.
Frederick Forsyth worked as a journalist, political commentator and spy, before writing The Day of the Jackal, and The Odessa File.
Less specialised military service has also provided authors with graphic and realistic inspiration for their writing, for example Alistair MacLean wrote his bestseller HMS Ulysses based on his own war experiences and those of his brother in the Navy.
Inspiration From Normal Life
But what if your life has not had such amazing work experiences? Because, let's be honest, very few people are spies or special forces operatives, although you may be forgiven for thinking otherwise if you read many author’s bio descriptions.
Human Experience: Pain, Hunger, Joy, Love, Hate and Sadness.
Aspiring authors need not give up simply because they do not work for MI6 or serve on a battleship, because we all have experiences that can be applied to making our writing detailed, realistic and valuable to readers. Every interaction that we have with other people is filled with rich context and often powerful emotion. We just have to recognise them and learn to apply them into our writing. If you pick up any great story you will see that it is these human emotions and interactions that form the basis of all great literature.
What is the difference between the emotions involved in the love, hate, or rivalry between two spies and those of non spies? Simply the context.
When we talk of spies and their secrets we must recognise that we so called ordinary people have secrets as well, do we not? The ways we see personal secrets being handled by the people in our direct experience is, in truth, indistinguishable from the emotions and responses exhibited by spies, because spies are just human beings, like us and those around us.
I have used examples from the world of spying because spies play a role in my own writing but the same principles apply for all genres and types of writing. Your reader is a human being, just like you and if you provide them with context that they recognise they will value the sharing of the human condition. That is great writing.
Great Writers: Collectors and Recorders of the Human Condition
Start collecting emotions and scenes from all around you and start applying them into your own writing. When you read, notice how the author has applied human experiences to make their scenes come alive. Good luck with your own writing and remember to write what you enjoy!