People tell you to write what you know. It’s one of the most common pieces of advice to aspiring writers.
And it works: when you put down words that are based in your lived experience, they ring true. They are solid, trustworthy, something understandable by most readers. It’s why autobiographical books from famous people often do well. Readers want to feel what it was like to live that life, be involved in those moments, understand the parts of the story that weren’t shared with the general public at the time. Maybe it’s a voyeuristic compulsion, I don’t know. Maybe it’s just curiosity.
As a writer who skews towards fiction — fantasy fiction, at that — it’s on me to create characters that are interesting, realistic, and relatable. I also have to build plots that are compelling and full of depth and good storytelling, and that includes plotlines and devices that readers can get behind and believe in, even in that fantasy world.
That’s where my experiences, quirks, obsessions, and history come into play. As a writer, I take bits and pieces of what I’ve lived and observed, who I am and have been, and people I’ve known or encountered, and I turn all of that into parts of my stories. I’ve had friends ask me things like “So… Sousa. He’s based on ______, right?” or “Club Marcada is totally _____! I recognized it right away!” I’ve had other people tell me that different characters or scenes remind them of people or places that I don’t know, but they feel familiar and comfortable to them.
What’s funny about that, and also awesome? That readers can see bits of their lives in these books, in these stories that came wholly out of my head. And yet the people and places are all also influenced by people and places that I’ve known and experienced, as well as bits from me directly. It feely surprisingly universal in some aspects.
Because people ask, I’ll tell you a few “secrets” about the characters and some details in my books that come directly from me or my life.
I write about music and musicians convincingly because I am a musician and DJ. I spent time performing as well as running a club night with live music, so all the details are quite familiar to me.
Lucee’s impostor syndrome is 100% reflective of my own. The frustration that Cullen feels watching Lucee struggle with this is also drawn directly from my own experience.
Club Marcada is based on a real club that I used to patronize and DJ in as well. Some details have been changed but the feel is 100% accurate and represents my love for tiny bars/clubs that are keeping the independent music scene alive.
Descriptions of Emmaline’s illness come from my own experiences, especially the crushing fatigue she deals with.
Sousa’s and Sheridan’s characters both have some aspects from people I have known, and yes they were that funny and drunkenly ridiculous at times. The parties at House Mirabilis are also based on real parties I’ve attended. Yes, Fae weirdness included.
Most importantly, though — all the characters, every single one, has bits of me in them. Vali’s undying optimism, Merrick’s adaptability, Morgance’s fierceness, Cullen’s vulnerableness… I even gave part of me to Camlin, though I’m not giving that away here either. You’ll have to find me at event and ask me about that, I guess!
So yes, write what you know. Don’t be afraid to put you and your knowledge all throughout your stories. People will feel it, and will connect with it. I promise.