Write What You Know


Small Town USAWe’ve all heard it said. “Write what you know.” The directive is usually met with resistance. We look at our mundane lives, our mundane houses, and our mundane jobs and can’t imagine what there is to write about.

“My life,” you rejoin, “is boring.”

To which I reply, “Bore deeper.”

I could write an entire series about mining your own life for story (and I probably will), but for now, I want to talk specifically about setting.

You see, when Carrie and I were discussing the setting for a mystery series, Carrie posed the question of whether my new hometown on the North Dakota prairie (population 1200) would make a good model for our fictional setting.

“It would make a great setting,” I replied.

Which, on the surface, was a very stupid idea. What inspiration could possibly be found in such a sleepy little podunkville?

Plenty, pal.

As the person who actually lives in said sleepy little town, I’m in charge of on-the-ground research. And with every day that passes, I’m more convinced than ever that my little town and the surrounding area can provide ample story inspiration.

Small-Town Character

My new hometown has plenty of charm. Ideal for, say, a cozy mystery series.

  • One store on Main Avenue is both a barber shop and shoe repair. (What could be more natural?)
  • I am informed that the quintessential small-town cafe is only open sporadically.
  • A mundane stray dog report resulted in me driving a sheriff’s patrol car. (I kid you not. You can read the story here.)

Police CarBig Story Drama

For all that, I’m also finding that my “sleepy” little town … isn’t always so sleepy.

  • My first sheriff’s ride-along (another after-effect of the stray dog episode) involved a drug bust that turned up marijuana, drug paraphernalia, minor in possession of alcohol, and possession of a narcotic without a prescription (a class C felony). So much for Mayberry.
  • The county is bristling over a couple of white supremacists who recently moved into the area. Their previous exploits trying to take over another North Dakota town made national news.
  • One day, a house in yet another nearby town exploded. A man inside made it out alive–then was arrested on suspicion of causing the explosion.

Now if Carrie and I can’t spin some story ideas out of fodder like that, we surely aren’t trying hard enough!

So …

If you think your life is boring, you aren’t boring deep enough.

On some level or another, all story ideas are bred of the real world. (Yes, even fantasy.) My position is that there is no aspect of the real world that can’t provide story inspiration. It’s all in how you look at it. And how deeply you look at it. And how attuned you are to the story potential in every-day affairs.

So take a good, hard look at the world around you. There’s a story in there somewhere. What is it?

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