I am very pleased to have a guest blog post by one of my new favorite authors: SEAN BENHAM. Sean is the creative (perhaps slightly wicked) mind behind the highly original Blope, which I reviewed earlier this week.
He looks so…normal… there on the right, doesn’t he? Where the heck did Blope come from? Ah, well… thanks for stepping in here, Sean. Take it away …
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Write what you… No! Don’t!
By Sean Benham, author of Blope
When it comes to fiction writing, one of the things English teachers on television always tell their students is to ‘Write what you know’. I have to qualify this with ‘on television’ because I went to a technical high school; my English teachers taught us about torque and oil viscosity. I have a feeling TV English teachers are a gang of masochists, because they’ll have to read what those students write and that advice is bound to elicit some dull writing.
Most lives, mine included, are a banal slog from point A to point B and back, peppered with drunken water-skiing on the weekend. (OK, so my life doesn’t include any water-skiing. Stop rubbing your fancy boat in my face already!) Even the most elegantly composed book, article, poem or blog post about the intricacies of the average daily grind is going to suck. This, of course, is opinion. Luckily, my opinions are invariably correct, so you don’t have to go through the hassle of cross-checking them against your own or the opinions of others.
Now, some people do lead extraordinary lives. The thing is, when people want to read about these extraordinary exploits, they generally want to read about what really happened, not a fictionalized account. Interesting people write autobiographies.
Remember when that guy wrote a book about covering his hand in sprinkles and then Oprah got really mad at him? He was writing a fictionalized account of what he knew and he got called out for lying. He never actually covered his hand in sprinkles; only a mad man would do something like that.
As you can tell, my logic is airtight and this point requires no further analysis. On top of that, the very notion that ‘write what you know’ can be interpreted as ‘write from your own moral compass, expand upon your experiences’ is disgusting and you should be ashamed of yourself.
When I wrote Blope, my debut novel, I made a point of making everything up, right down to the names. Billy? That’s a Sean Benham original. Jonathan? Whoa, slow down Sean, that’s pretty radical…
Seriously though, what I know is awfully far from what I wrote. My first hand experience with plastic surgery, forced segregation, extreme religion, cave pornography, Taiwanese dictators and self-contained stratospheric flight is limited to say the very least. If you were hoping for details about my drive to work, where I like to grab lunch or my personal preference in laundry detergent, I’m afraid Blope isn’t the novel for you.
If you do happen to receive the ol’ ‘Write what you know’ as writing advice, here’s what you should do: transfer to a technical high school. There, you’ll learn skills applicable to the real world, like what to do if the crankshaft in your antagonist breaks or how far you can push the amperage in your dialogue before you overload the circuit.
Sean Benham is a Toronto-based entertainment industry professional who has worked as an art director, graphic animator, writer and producer on everything from Emmy award-winning children’s television programming to heavy metal music videos.