All writers have heard “write what you know”, but we just don’t know everything, do we? Not all of us are forensic scientists writing about forensic anthropology, nor are we all doctors writing about the surgical procedure the character has to undergo.
So, what do we do about that? Do we limit our writing to just what we’ve experienced in our short life span? Some of us have gone through a lot in our lifetimes and that makes great story telling. But what about those that have lived fairly ordinary lives, but dream about stories where characters do extraordinary things? Sound familiar?
Research. Find out about what we don’t know. If it’s important to the story that the character is put in jail and you’ve never experienced that, then arrange a jail visit. Find out first hand what the procedures are that they follow to keep you and the inmates safe. Record in your mind the sights and sounds of this new experience so you can capture it in your story.
If your character knits and you don’t know how then attend a class or knitting club – watch, listen and learn. If your character is a cold blooded killer, talk to someone in law enforcement or a criminal psychologist and try to get into that mind set. Not everything should be experienced first hand. We all have imaginations and we can use them, just make sure there is enough fact to be credible, that’s all the reader is asking for – help them suspend belief.
Make sure what you need to learn is truly important to the story and fits with the plot and character. Putting something shocking or technical into a story that doesn’t propel the story forward is a waste of time for both the writer and the reader. So, write what you know, find out about what you don’t know, and use that new knowledge to make the story richer.
(This is modified from a post I did in 2009. It’s still true writing buddies!)