Write What You Love, Not What You Know: Rohan and Me, by JCM Berne

23 Nov 2022

There is a famous writing adage, “write what you know.” Sorry, I’m too lazy to google its origin, but if you care, I’m sure you can figure it out.

I wouldn’t argue that “write what you know” is necessarily bad advice, but I don’t think it’s the best advice for writers of genre fiction. Why? Well not to toot my own horn too much, but I know a LOT of things. I know a good bit about software development, I know where to find the best charcuterie in the Hudson Valley, I know a ton about parenting (if we can all acknowledge that ‘knowing’ means ‘knowing what not to do’), and I can make a perfect Old Fashioned (yes, I’m serious, and yes, I’ll make you one the next time you come to my house). It’s a perfectly acceptable set of things to know as far as I’m concerned.

The problem is that everything I know is boring. To be honest, I’m kind of boring. Don’t believe me? Try following me around for a day. No, don’t; it will be terrible, I spend most of my life in front of one twenty-five-inch monitor or another typing things you couldn’t possibly care about, or scrolling through social media. If I wrote about the things I KNOW I’d be done in about six hundred words and you’d be in a coma four hundred words in.

Instead, I write about the things I love. You see, I love stories; especially certain kinds of stories. I’ve been reading comic books, watching martial arts movies, and studying science fiction and fantasy novels in almost every spare moment of my life for the past forty or so years. And those things, my friend, are not boring.

What kind of stories do you love, Joe? Why, I’m glad you asked!

First of all, while I’m okay with stories that follow the hero’s journey, I’m kind of tired of them. Yes, Luke Skywalker, yes, yawn. I’m an old man, I don’t need to keep reading about teenagers leaving home for the first time and discovering the world. It’s been done.

Instead, give me my retired gunslingers. John Wick. The Man from Nowhere. Ogami Itto. Rurouni Kenshin. Heroes who went through their journeys, got chewed up and spit out the back end. That’s my jam!

Cover for The Hybrid Helix, a series by JCM Berne

What about setting? Well, I love superhero stories (remember, I’ve been a heavy comic book reader for two score years). But I’m also a grownup, and most superhero stories for grownups are either silly OR deconstructions. What do I mean by that? They take superhero tropes and reverse some of them. Think The Boys, where the superheroes (usually good guys!) are all terrible people (Brandon Sanderson’s Reckoners does this even more explicitly). Or Watchmen, where the heroes are all severely damaged and dysfunctional people.

No, I want a REAL superhero story, where the heroes are trying to do the right thing but ALSO wear spandex. But I like them with grownup storylines – realistic relationships, fallible (but still trying!) characters. Where did I find this? Invincible! By Robert Kirkman. It’s a comic AND a cartoon and it’s fantastic.

If I have superheroes, where should I put them? Well, superhero stories set on Earth are fine. But EVEN BETTER is superhero stories set on spaceships. The best X-Men stories ever told happened off planet (fight me!) An old DC Comic called The Griffin, a gem of a limited series about an Earth dude recruited to fight in the navy of an interstellar empire, was one of my favorite all-time stories.

What else do I love? Setting superhero stories in space covers the space operas I loved to read – from EE ‘Doc’ Smith (Lensman) all the way to Simon R Green’s Deathstalker series. But you know what else I love? Indian movies. Both Bollywood and Tollywood.

I can’t get enough of big Tollywood action vehicles like RRR, Baahubali, or Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo (seriously, watch it on Netflix). Nobody does overpowered heroes like Tollywood. What’s so great about these? For large parts of these movies, you’re not really worried that the heroes might lose, or get killed. The driving force is instead the question: “How cool will the hero look while winning?”

So I wrote a story where the main character is rarely in personal danger. You can relax: Rohan is going to win. His friends will be okay. You’re going to want to read because it will be fun to find out how he wins, but you won’t feel sick to your stomach wondering whether he does. Take that, George Martin.

And for Bollywood? Well, I put in a romantic subplot that pays homage to my favorite films. Yes, I know which actress I’d pick to play Tamaralinth Lastex, and her initials are RM. Free set of ebooks to anyone who tweets me the correct answer.

Mash these things together and you get Wistful Ascending. Is it what I know? Not really. I’ve never flown through space, punched a giant bug, met a talking bear, or fallen in love with a green-skinned woman. But I love stories about all those things, and I poured everything I love in media into my books.

Will you love it too? I’m not sure, but I hope so! If you’re not sure, I strongly suggest you check out some of the reviews. Numerous blogs, Goodreads, Amazon, and YouTube all have reviews of my books. Or google “Wistful Ascending” and see what pops up.

But in the end I can promise you this: you will enjoy Wistful Ascending, a book about what I love, a LOT more than you’d enjoy a book about what I know. Nobody wants to read four hundred pages about finding a showerhead with a finish that matches the faucets in my master bathroom!

If you’re a writer, what do YOU love? If you LOVE your everyday life, by all means, write about that. But if you actually love the idea of exploring alien worlds (which, I’m going to guess, is not something you actually know), I bet you’d have a lot more fun writing about that. Love martial arts tournaments? Write Baki the Grappler fanfiction. Or any other kind of fanfiction! Go crazy!

Almost none of us are going to get rich writing, but a lot of us can bring joy to our lives with it. Just don’t worry too much about what you do or don’t know.

About the author of this article

JCM Berne

JCM Berne has reached middle age without outgrowing the notion that superheroes are cool. Code monkey by day, by night he slaves over a hot keyboard to prove that superhero stories can be engaging and funny without being dark or silly.

You can follow him on his different socials:
Twitter: @JoeBerne1
Website: www.joeberne.com
Free story in StoryOrigin: https://storyoriginapp.com/directdownloads/b06ed389-2016-45a2-bf20-c8578c719a40

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