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Platform Delving: Writing What I KNOW

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A couple of years ago, I was talking with one of my fellow romance writers who also happens to be unmarried, and she reported a conversation she had about books with a few other people in the book club at her church. (Two things they didn’t know about her: that she writes romances and that she isn’t married.) Apparently one mentioned that she does not read romance novels if they are written by someone who isn’t married, as single people can’t possibly know what they’re talking about when it comes to romance. Another person apparently voiced approval of this statement, adding that unmarried women who write romance are just showing their desperation to be married so much so that they have to make up stories about it—oh, and they’re ugly, too, which is why they aren’t married in the first place.

It’s a good thing that I was not nearby when this conversation took place, because I probably would have lost my religion—all over them. As I’ve already stated, I’m passionate about those who are single, especially women over a “certain age.” And part of my passion is focused trying to break through the long-standing prejudice against singles in the Christian community, especially within the church congregation—but that’s not the point of this entry.

“Write what you know” is one of the most misunderstood instructions given about writing. Most people take it at face value, interpreting it as, “Write about only what you have personally done or experienced in the confines of your own life.” If fiction writers were to interpret it this way, we would eliminate entire genres: science fiction, fantasy, horror, historical, and 99% of mystery/crime/suspense/thriller. There would be no Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk, no Luke Skywalker, no hobbits and Middle Earth, no Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, no Scarlett O’Hara, no Sherlock Holmes, no James Bond or Jason Bourne, no Superman or Batman, and no one would have ever heard the names Stephanie Myers, J.K. Rowling, or Stephen King.

If we wrote only about what we have personally experienced, what a boring world this would be. But God gave us imaginations with which, as the character of Chaucer (Paul Bettany) said in A Knight’s Tale, we “give the truth scope!”

Lest anyone should argue that this is unbiblical, let me give the ultimate example. In His life on earth, Jesus grew up in a small town and learned the trade of a carpenter from His stepfather, Joseph. Yet He crafted stories of farmers, of masters, of vineyard owners, of slaves, of widows, of husbands and wives, of profligate young men who ran away from home—of people whose lives and experiences were vastly different from His own.

I have chosen romance as my genre. I love the process of crafting my characters and taking them through the intricate dance that is the progression of their relationship. And, on that day so long ago, as we discussed whether or not singles are fit to write romance novels, a very important thought struck me:

Romance novels are about SINGLE people! Yep, you read that correctly. Think about it. With the exception of two small subgenres (romance in marriage and stories featuring extramarital affairs), romance novels feature as their main characters two UNmarried people facing and dealing with everything that comes along with being SINGLE. And for me, being unmarried and having lived by myself for more than thirteen years, I find it very easy when I read romance novels to determine if the author was married at a very young age or if she experienced some of what it is to be a single adult out on her own in this world. Those who married later—in their late twenties or after—have a much more authentic voice when creating their characters’ SINGLENESS than those who married straight out of high school or college.

Those who married later as well as those who are still unmarried know the loneliness that can creep unawares from our subconscious to our conscious mind and hit us like a Mack truck—even when we’re at the top of our game or feeling the most confident we ever have. They know what it’s like to be the “sole supporter” of our household—having to provide for all of our own needs with no relief of someone else to share the burden (unless there’s a roommate in the situation, but that brings its own inherent problems). They also understand, especially when writing characters over the age of thirty, it’s not necessarily “romance” we desire most—not the flowers, fancy dinners, or quoted poetry (although we still like all that); it’s a longing for companionship, for support, for understanding, for someone to walk with hand-in-hand down whatever is left of life’s road. Someone to help us pay the bills. Someone to comfort us when facing the illness or death of a loved one. Someone to help us take care of our aging parents. Someone to be there when the rest of the world seems to shut us out. Someone to start our car and scrape the ice from the window on a winter morning, or to make our favorite dinner at the end of a long, hard day.

Yes, many of us who are single and writing romance novels do so because we desire to experience the fulfillment of our soul’s longing for that companionship. We also write romance because we are in love with falling in love. We write it in reaction to relationships we’ve experienced, or as a “what if” scenario after a chance encounter. We write it to counter the rejection we have experienced in our lives.

A question we single-writers-of-romance have for those who see our writing romance as a sign of our desperation to be married: what, then, does that say about married women writing romance? Do they desire to not be married and go through meeting someone and falling in love again? Are they writing them because they are discontent with their own husband and are desperately living out their fantasies of being married to someone else?

Of course not! Like the singles who write romance, they write it because they, too, are in love with falling in love, or because of past relationship experiences, or because of the wonder they experienced in their own path to marriage.

Therefore, when I write romance, I’m writing what I know. Not because I’m married or in a relationship. But because I have been in love. Because I know the longing for companionship. And because I have the experience of the ultimate “romance”—Jesus’ love for me.

Oh, and one final thought . . . most people, whether readers of romance or not, when asked what the greatest romance novel ever written is, will most likely answer Pride & Prejudice or Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights—all three of which of which were written by SINGLE women!

  1. Tuesday, September 22, 2009 10:31 am

    Loved this post. You are so right!!! 😉

    Happy writing.


  2. greyfort permalink
    Tuesday, September 22, 2009 10:40 am



  3. Quinn permalink
    Tuesday, September 22, 2009 1:08 pm

    This post sizzles! It’s well argued, realistic, logical, and yet heartfelt.

    Are you planning to do a class on this topic at some writer’s conference?
    It’s that important.


    • Tuesday, September 22, 2009 1:16 pm

      I just used this very example at the mini-conference I led two weeks ago for my local writers’ group (and this is actually a re-post from three years ago!). But as part of my platform, one of the reasons I’m spending so much time writing about singleness and how it ties in with my writing is because I’m looking to start expanding my reach—and hopefully be able to get more speaking ‘gigs’ and teaching opportunities to talk about either writing or singleness or both.


  4. Tuesday, September 22, 2009 2:22 pm

    Well said, Kaye! 🙂 And I love the line ~ “…romance novels feature as their main characters two UNmarried people facing and dealing with everything that comes along with being SINGLE.”

    It’s almost too bad that you weren’t at that book club meeting. 🙂


    • Tuesday, September 22, 2009 3:16 pm

      Don’t worry, I’ve had to deal with the question, “Why do you, as a single person, write romance novels?” (i.e., “Where do you get off writing about people falling in love?”) often enough!


  5. Tuesday, September 22, 2009 4:44 pm

    LOL! Oh my goodness, Kaye; you reason like a lawyer. I was chuckling inside all through this. I’d think that the women who said such cold things in the beginning of this blog post would be blushing after reading this. Very well said.


    • Tuesday, September 22, 2009 5:02 pm

      It’s that whole left-brain thing I’m blessed/cursed with. 😉

      As far as making them blush . . . yeah, I hope so. But more importantly, hopefully it would make them think before they speak next time! (We all need to hear/read things that make us do that.)


  6. Emilie permalink
    Tuesday, September 22, 2009 6:35 pm

    I will never look at romance novels the same way again. Brilliant post, Kaye. Keep ’em coming!


  7. Tuesday, September 22, 2009 10:57 pm

    Oh, this cracks me up! I, too, had never grasped that romance novels are about single people. Even in my less than a year of singleness, I’ve thought several time I need to write a romance because the longing and loneliness are feelings I want to capture. There is a realness I could not have captured as a married woman. (Which might just be a reflection of my skill!)

    My last book was more of a marital romance. (The Familiar Stranger, which released 9-1), but my WIP follows a single woman. Interesting …


  8. Tuesday, September 22, 2009 11:21 pm

    Ohhhhh that last paragraph makes me want to go back and say to all those people who only want to read romances written by married people and go “Nah nah nah nah na!!!” Those three books ARE some of the greatest romances ever written and they have stood the test of time…they’ve been around for almost 200 years…come on people!!!!!! I can see how you’d want to slap some people silly sometimes!!! Great post!

    XOXO~ Renee


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