Harry Potter and the Good/Bad Writing Advice

There’s a very interesting post over at Nathan Bransford’s page about bad writing advice.

However, here’s something I pulled out of the comments:

“Write what you know.” [This is the bad advice.]

Heard that from a creative writing professor about my manuscript centered around a family of women (I’m a dude). 

Oh yeah, thought I? Well where the heck does Harry Potter come from then? Since when is Rowling a wizard and a boy wizard at that???

I don’t like to criticize other people, but I frankly I think this person is miles and miles off base. And, worse, is a thousand percent sure that he’s right and can safely ignore the soundest piece of writing advice ever given.

I don’t know exactly what Rowling knows and doesn’t know, but we do know that she knows:

*How to be a nearly hopeless situation and use your own pluck, nerve and talen to get out of it. (Harry)

*What it’s like to be an extremely clever girl. (Hermione.)

*What it’s like to be poor. (Ron.)

* What it’s like to heaped with criticism by people who don’t understand what you’re trying to offer kids. (Hagrid.)

And I assume there are a million little things she knew which went into the book. What it’s like to go to a train station, to shop at weird back alley shops, to have a teacher who doesn’t like you.

And then there’s another thing that people know, they know what they wish for. The Qwikpick Adventure Society is a wish-fulfillment book, really, even though there’s no element of fantasy in it at all. Rowling, however, had the capacity to understand what millions of other people were wishing for, too.

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One Response

  1. Yes … it’s possible that the writer who can’t step far enough back from “what you know” to be able to apply it beyond that might want to consider something else … accounting, maybe?

    (Not that there’s anything wrong with that … I’ve got six years of banking in my background.)

    I just read this post with my wife, and we think you’ve got it dead-on. There’s a reason why writers say you should write what you know … even ones who write fantasy and science fiction.

    I’ve never been the main character of my novel-in-progress, but I’ve had moral conflicts, felt out of place, and been unable to relate to others because of thoughts rattling around in my head. Once you get past the flashy parts of his background, that’s his story, really.

    In other words, I agree with you completely.

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