Wednesday, July 16, 2014

How to Know the Unknowable

Man or Mar?
The adage write what you know works well for how-to manuals, cookbooks, auto repair guides or medical text. With such topics, writers need a certain level of expertise. When it comes to speculative fiction, however, it’s another story.

No one on Earth can know what a newly risen Mar, a Silver Metal Lover, a sympathetic, crazy hot zombi or a post apocalyptic witch is really like until the author creates them, from scratch.

Sometimes that process can be a challenge so I’ve put together some thoughts for writing what you don’t know.

Stefan, Elena, Damon

Tip #1: Research

This is totally fun. If you have a world that is primarily desert, you don’t have to live in the Sahara to write it convincingly. You do have to ‘know’ what it is like to have half and inch of rain a year and dust storms so blinding you can get lost between your camel and your tent. In other words, research the ecology of desert life.

You can’t have bright green grass and furry platypuses, unless you explain a turf that goes eleven and a half months without water and a river mammal that swims in sand. And what about that supernatural man or woman? How to characterize them?

Suggested research includes: Buffy, Angel, Spike, Drusilla, Eric, Sookie, Damon, Stefan, Elena, Klaus, Caroline . . . who else?

Tip #2: Savvy proofreaders

Klaus & Caroline
Research can take the place of direct experience, especially in world building, but there are exceptions. Horses are one. If you don’t know horses, you can learn about them, but if they are going to do more than graze in the paddock, you’ll need a proof-reader with horse sense to check your work. Readers who are also riders will spot ineptitude a mile away. Jolt! If it’s going to be a feature in your novel, get an expert to proof and/or offer technical advice. Same goes for quantum computers, wolves and witches.

Tip #3: Hands on

If you’re going to give a piece of art, animal, dance, ritual, music or machine a big role in your script, immerse in it, fully. As a bonus, your life will become richer for the experience. In my first two series, I researched quantum computing, physics theory, geo-engineering, bio-engineering and were-animal mythologies. I joined a local dojo and learned to wield a samurai sword. I can't tell you how much 'hands on' enhances the writing experience. :)

Tip #4: Start with a grain of truth

No matter how wild and farfetched your story becomes, that grain of truth (from history, mythology and lore) is what you build on and what will give your prose more weight. In my Quantum Encryption series, a main character takes my love of the Gray Wolf, an endangered species, and comes up with a solution to their looming extinction. I also look at possible results from geo-engineering projects that might do more harm than good (solar shields anyone?). It’s all about the speculation, but begin with something real. A truth.
Sookie & Eric

Add these tips together and you'll find your story not only rings true, it becomes a contribution to the future, what is possibly, probably or only ever to be imagined.

Happy reading, writing, dreaming and storytelling, everyone and let me know who your favorite original supernatural character is, from book or film. Right now, I'm leaning toward Orphan Black's Sarah Manning.  Yep, clone club. :)


Kim Falconer is a Supernatural Underground author writing paranormal romance, urban fantasy, YA and epic science fantasy novels.

You can find out more about Kim at or on the 11th House Blog, and on FaceBook and Twitter. She posts here at the Supernatural Underground on the 16th of every month. Her latest release is"Blood and Water" in Supernatural Underground: Vampires Gone Wild.

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