Tuesday, October 20, 2020


Write What You Know

by Saralyn Richard

Back in the day, there were certain rules a writer had to observe. Show, don’t tell. Always use complete sentences. Write what you know.

The logic behind these rules was impeccable, and, all innovation to the contrary, most writers still observe them today, at least most of the time.

When my Detective Parrott Mystery series, including MURDER IN THE ONE PERCENT, and A PALETTE FOR LOVE AND MURDER, was published, readers assumed I was a part of the country’s top one percent. Otherwise, how did I know so many of the details surrounding how the rich and powerful dressed, ate, drank, and partied?

Truthfully, I did attend an elegant party in Brandywine Valley, and that inspired the party in MURDER IN THE ONE PERCENT, but all of the details about the one percent came from research. (Sorry to disappoint, but, no, I do not have fifty pairs of Christian Louboutin heels in my closet.)

How did I portray all of the books’ characters and home interiors so authentically? I observed, I asked questions, and I shopped online at all of the most exclusive stores (without spending a dime).

I’ve been asked many times how I was able to depict Detective Oliver Parrott so genuinely, since I am neither young, male, nor African-American. That must have been a real departure from writing what you know, right? Wrong.

As an urban high school educator, I’ve known hundreds, maybe thousands, of young African-American males, many of them as intelligent, ambitious, hard-working, and down-to-earth as Detective Parrott. I’ve known their struggles, their families, and their dreams. I’ve celebrated their joys and grieved their sorrows. I’ve listened to them speak and watched them perform.

Detective Parrott is an amalgamation of many fine young men who have taken their places in society and who strive to make a difference with their lives. He is definitely an example of writing what I know.

Similarly, I drew from my experiences as a teacher, administrator, and school improvement consultant in urban high schools to write the upcoming release, A MURDER OF PRINCIPAL. Although the story is fictional, it pulls back the curtain on the joys and challenges within a large school community, and the issues of gangs, grievances, sexual harassment, and race are ever-so relevant today.

Whether I’m writing about billionaire playboys or disadvantaged football players, whether I researched or remembered, I’m writing what I know. And I hope my characters will resonate with you, too.

What books have you read that transported you out of your own experience?


Award-winning mystery and children’s book author, Saralyn Richard has drawn from her experiences as an urban high school educator to write A Murder of Principal. Her previous books, Naughty Nana, Murder in the One Percent, and A Palette for Love and Murder, have delighted children and adults, alike. An active member of International Thriller Writers and Mystery Writers of America, Saralyn teaches creative writing at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, and continues to write mysteries. Reviews, media, and tour schedule may be found at http://saralynrichard.com.

A maverick principal comes to Lincoln High School with a student-centered agenda. Trouble ensues, and killing the principal is just the beginning. A MURDER OF PRINCIPAL is available for pre-order at https://www.amazon.com/Murder-Principal-Saralyn-Richard-ebook/dp/B08KWLZ9JP/ref=




  1. Great post, Saralyn. Shopping online at exclusive boutiques (even without buying a thing) sounds like a lot of fun!

    1. Thanks, Lynn. Virtual shopping is a lot of fun, sort of like dressing up paper dolls. And you don't have to worry if the styles change before you have a chance to wear the clothes. Be aware, though, you'll leave cookies with each shopping excursion, and you'll receive ads for ages afterwards. :)

  2. I've long change it to "write what you are willing to learn." And just observing people in a wonderful way to do that.

    1. That's so true, Mark. I remember a Chicago author, Stuart Kaminsky, who chose the topic of his next novel based on whatever he wanted to learn about.


  3. I agree with Mark. If a writer only wrote what she knew, she'd run out subjects after a while. I don't know any writers who don't do some amount of research to make their fiction more authentic. Imagination is also key for any writer of fiction.


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