Know It All

“Write what you know,” is, I think, one of the most common pieces of advice I heard in my early grad school classes. First day of class or right before a project was assigned, those words always seemed to appear to hang over our heads and leave us all a little skittish.

How much do you have to know to know what you need to know in order to be credible?

Some writers have said you just need to know a “little” of everything: sprinkling a few facts in here and there without dumping it on the reader was enough to make everything more credible. Cicero in De Oratore talks about how orators in ancient Rome needed to be well-versed in just about everything.

I’ll grant in Cicero’s day each man had to be his own encyclopedia. Women were lucky to get to be their own thesaurus, but that’s a topic for a different blog. Anyway, it was a very different world back then, especially seeing as we don’t have to worry anymore about leprosy and Black Death in our part of the globe.

Since most of you probably don’t read Latin or have better things to do with your time than translate, here is a link to an English summary of De Oratore.

I have to agree with the principle. The more you know the more convincing your story will be. I mean, info dumping is never good, but you don’t have to include everything you know. I’ve been told that readers can tell if an author knows a lot on a subject, and, as a reader, I’m inclined to believe that. Writers who know write with authority. Writers who don’t know write with fingers crossed.

It seems like the longer I write the more time I devote to research, which is probably a good thing. I’ve learned about the interior layout of galleons, the way ancient looms worked, and a little too much about medieval medical practices. I think the weirdest thing I’ve researched was how to make a crude compass.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever learned in research (even if it wasn’t for writing)?

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