In 2003 I got my private pilot’s license, and ever since then I have found myself more and more embroiled in writing about flying. It crept up on me gradually. I started out with a short story called ‘Chasing the Wind’ (in Sharyn November’s first anthology Firebirds), which was about a girl who is a passenger in a small plane in Kenya in the early 1950s… I moved from there to ‘Chain of Events’ (in the Reckless issue of Michael Cart’s Rush Hour) in which a girl passenger takes over the command, though not the controls, of a feckless teenage pilot. It wasn’t until my third short story about flying that I felt confident enough to write about a girl who actually becomes a pilot, and ‘Something Worth Doing’ (in Sharyn November’s Firebirds Soaring) eventually provided the seed for my novel Code Name Verity.
What do these stories have in common? Well, they’re all about women in flight, and it’s the feminine aspect of piloting that inspires me. It’s such an unusual activity for a woman, or a girl; I want to spread the word. I want to inspire others. I hope that one or two girls who read my stories will think, ‘Hmmm. Maybe I could do that.’
I couldn’t have written about flying until I knew how to fly. I wouldn’t have dared. I still never quite feel sure I’m being as accurate as I need to be, especially since my fictional pilots tend to be more adventurous than I am myself. But the seed for verisimilitude is there.
You know the old adage, ‘Write about what you know’? I think it could be more accurately stated, ‘Write about what you love.’ That’s what makes good writing – the personal touch doesn’t necessarily come from first hand experience, but rather from first hand passion. A writer’s knowledge born of a deep, inquiring interest can be every bit as thorough as knowledge gained through experience. Do the research; do the fieldwork; learn the language.
Your passion is a gift which you can share – a gift you should want to share. Your flair for a subject should shine through your writing and inspire your readers. But be cautious about your expertise. Not all your readers share your expertise and not all of them will care about it. The trick is to draw their interest with your story without getting into the nitty gritty of what you know. You don’t need to describe how a piston engine works in order to describe the thrill of take-off at full power. Your know-how should be sketched in lightly – let the full extent of your knowledge be readable between the lines only.
There will always be a few people who don’t want to know – who simply aren’t interested in the detailed story you want to share, no matter how passionate that story is. But I like to hope for the best. I’ll continue to imagine an ideal reader with an inquiring mind open to new ideas. Maybe a love of flying will creep up on readers gradually, just as it did on me.
Elizabeth Wein’s author website: www.elizabethwein.com
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