One of the things I’ve been meaning to do is share my notes from various cons I’ve attended, particularly notes about writing advice and recommended reading from panelists. My notes are a mix of direct quotes and paraphrasing of key ideas the panelists and/or audience discussed. This is not meant to be a verbatim transcription of the panel, but rather a summary of key points and takeaways that are attributed where possible.

The following notes are from the panel “Write What You Know… What Do You Know?” at Capclave 2019 in Rockville, MD.

Panelists: Walter Hunt (Moderator), Bjorn Hasseler, Alex Shvartsman, Michelle D. Sonnier, and Darrel Schweitzer

Walter Hunt (WH): If you only write what you know, science fiction (SF) can’t be a thing.

Darrel Schweitzer (DS): Kate Wilhelm writes about the culture of scientists.
Every human activity develops its own culture and story.

Michelle D. Sonnier (MDS): Some of the things you know are the emotions and how humans react to things. Become a student of human behavior: learn it, and you can put it in all stories and settings.

Alex Shvartsman (AS): The more professional a writer is, the pickier they are about what they’re willing to write [because they could write so many things].

Bjorn Hasseler (BH): You don’t have to be an expert [in a topic], but a casual reader shouldn’t be able to put holes in your story/plot.

AS: We are all resources for each other. Consult with other authors, with friends who are experts on topics you aren’t. I choose my plots and settings in a way that people can’t argue with me. Trouble comes more often when you zero in on a specific detail. [Don’t get guns and horses wrong, readers will know!]

BH: If there are less than five people alive who know more than you, stop researching it and just write.

MDS: The ‘Tiffany Effect’ is real problem. You have to round out your world and make it believable. If it’s believable, you can get away with a whole lot. [Don’t get your birds wrong, either!]

Audience: Key thing you need is primary sources.

AS: When writing humor, you want to be right enough that when you’re wrong, it’s funny.

AS: Unreliable narrator tactic: we are conditioned to trust the narrator. You must be careful of when you reveal to reader that the narrator is unreliable. [People can get ticked.]

DS: Writing humor: The fatal thing in humor is trying to make everything funny.

AS: If you say a funny thing and your friends laugh, write down what you said [and circumstance] so you know [for later while writing humor].

Autobiographies of real people in specific fields can teach you key terminology and patterns of speech that you can use to create believable fictional characters (like veterans, etc.).

DS: Read lots of autobiographies and letters/epistles to better learn the cultures you’re trying to write.

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