There are generally two main interpretations of Write What You Know (or WWYK, an initialism that should not be confused with World Wide Year One Thousand, DC Comics’ upcoming 1000-issue mega event crossover event where the first 499 issues will be written by Geoff Johns minus any editorial oversight and the last 499 issues by Grant Morrisson minus any editorial oversight with the middle 2 issues co-written by Geoff and Grant after they learn what happens in each other’s 499 issues). SPOILER ALERT: Maxwell Lord gets into the Barber Shop business. Solomon Grundy and Bizarro are the narrators for all 1000 issues. Batman reveals his final contingency plan (you know, the one he would use if and when all of contingency plans were needed at the same time).
Sorry, I was rambling…Back to the two interpretations of Write What You Know…
1] Superficial Interpretation
Write What You Know means write from your own perspective and/or life and/or frame of reference. There is nothing wrong with this and it is in some respects easier. The problem comes in when Write What You Know means ONLY write from your own perspective and/or life and/or frame of reference. The result: A boatload of stories with settings similar or identical to your home town or place of employment, characters similar or identical to yourself or friends, opinions and life philosophies limited to your own…You get the picture.
2] Deeper Interpretation
Write What You Know means doing research before you write anything outside your field of knowledge / frame of reference while applying creativity to avoid thesis-like stories. The deeper interpretation is crucial in writing existing superheroes.
Steps for comic book writers writing long-existing characters or screen writers developing works based on comic books featuring long-existing characters:
1] Read the character bibles (these typically contain character bios, what a character is about [his/her motivation] and the most important events in his life). Of course, some comics companies sometimes misplace these…
2] Read the different writer’s runs with special emphasis of character portrayal. Let’s say, you’re planning on writing Green Arrow. Green Arrow has been written as the “Liberal Socially Conscious hero”, but during another period he was written a “Night Hunter” type vigilante. Another reason for reading these runs is the smaller story threads that were forgotten about or cut short due to a Mega Crossover Event.
3] Decide which portrayal to use. This could be one specific portrayal or a hybrid (Can you marry the “hyper-prepared Batman” with “the one who is regularly flummoxed by the on-again-off-again residents of Arkham"? Okay, bad example. The big rule here is to figure out which version can help you write the best story you can while not alienating all of that character's fandom. You are going to alienate some - there's no avoiding that. Back to Bats: "Batman: The brave and the bold" version of Bats is great, because it mixes many versions of Bats (e.g. “hyper-prepared Batman” meets "fat-headed, self-satisfied looking silver age Bats" meets "Bats who just loves punching people" meets "Grumpy Bats" meets...)
4] Be CONSISTENT in characterization. We can't blame evil Maxwell Lord or red kryptonite for every out-of-character moment. Inconsistent characterization is jarring to readers. Being consistent also helps you with plot in a "What would Batman do?" kind of way. So, charaterization is sort of mildly uber-important...I think.
So ends the sermon.