Joe Haldeman (via maxkirin)
I cry bullshit to Joe Haldeman! One of the most eloquent advocates of the “Write what you know” theory was Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Was he well known for writing mediocre novels about English professors contemplating adultery? What he knew was middle class 1930s life in Indianapolis. All of his works use that as a backbone—even when they take place partly on Tralfamadore or in the distant future on the Galapagos islands, even when our planet is freezing solid following exposure to ice nine.
Dismissal of the adage “Write what you know” is why so much fantasy and science fiction is rubbish! You can write fairy tales and time lord stories and space opera, but at some level it must be about fully rounded characters, with believable dialog, and it must deal with matters the reader can relate to as real in some manner.
Joe Haldeman seems to think that “Write what you know” means that white males should only write about white males in the modern day. That is so obtuse, it makes me wonder if he thinks somehow he is being funny.
Herman Melville wrote about whaling and sailing, because that is what he knew. Moby Dick is one of the most important novels in the English language (at least for the 19th century) because Melville’s deep and sophisticated knowledge of the subject matter allowed him to create symbolism and metaphor with many, many layers of meaning and unprecedented depth. Contrary to Haldeman’s apparent view, Moby Dick is not merely a book about whaling. Neither is Huckleberry Finn simply a book about a kid on a raft. What Tolkien knew was language and mythology. What Lewis knew was allegory.
Remember, the converse of “Write what you know” is “Don’t write what you don’t know.” I hate to burst your bubble Joe, that’s pretty good advice.