Marylu Downing

When You are not Writing What you Know: How the Internet Helps.

A typical piece of advice in the field of storytelling is to:  “Write What You Know.”

But what if you want to write about something you don’t have true knowledge of?  What if your characters, like Pink Paisley Scarf’s Persian character, Najid, or MaeAnn, with her family who

speaks Tagalog, are from cultures you know just a little about?  As a writer I can imagine some of the details but then I have to resort to google, or duckduckgo to find out what a baby might be named if his

parent is Persian, or what sweet words might be said in another language.  I had to look up many facts about Najid’s Zoroastrian beliefs, and some of what Sean knew about in the Palmdale area, in Indian Springs, and the petroglyphs in California’s desert.

Gone are the days of arduous library visits and lengthy interviews to collect information.  Although these resources can be mined and can really contribute richness to a book, now there is the internet with its access to an abundance of resources.  I felt confident that the facts I wanted to include, the menus, the sayings, the pashminas and even paisleys, those facts were readily available with just some time on the computer.

I did own a fabric shop at one time and I have always been interested in the connection between countries via the Silk Road, the trade, the influence on design, on tiles, places of worship, colors of homes, of textiles.  I used that to start a (pardon the pun) thread of what Elizabeth might be interested in, what Najid might import or export.

There are now travel diaries, vlogs and other digital experiences an author can use, if travel, like it had been during the height of Covid, is not an option.  I read articles about ships landlocked near the Salton Sea, about a palm oasis, and I went on plant sites and looked at botanical pictures.  Some of these places and things, I had some first-hand knowledge of, but this added a dimension to my personal knowledge that allowed me to go further with my writing.

Developing characters who will be remembered is a main task of a writer.  The people who grab the reader are lost when a book ends. I sometimes go into a little slump after finishing a good read because the characters have become important to me and now they are gone. A reader can even miss an object, like the pink paisley scarf, which becomes a talisman in this novel. On the internet I dove into facts about the symbol of the paisley that allowed me to make it count for more than a simple decoration.

I have the internet to thank for countless items that added richness to the work.  The baby name Bahar and what it means, the Tagalog that MaeAnn teaches Sean to say, these things add authenticity, even though I had to look for them, and didn’t personally know.

I was a social worker when I was a young woman, and even though the experiences Sean had with his own mother and father and his placement in foster care was mostly made up, I did have knowledge of child neglect and abuse.  I surfed in Southern California, and come from a family of surfers, so the feeling of the water, the inability to step correctly onto a board, these were from experience, but I still went on the internet just to double check current facts.

We have an invaluable resource now with all we can glean from our searches on our computers and I am thankful that I was able to create a novel of self discovery from my own discoveries doing research.

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