So, this is the most basic advice usually given to a writer. If you write what you know, then your material bears a ring of authenticity, of truth, even when you’re writing fiction. But what if your life isn’t overly exciting? What if you’re writing spy novels and you’ve never even left your hometown?
Well, what you do know about is home. Everybody has one, in some form or another. Write about that. Or, if your character lives out of a suitcase, try to imagine what that must be like, to move from place to place all the time. Maybe they long for a stable home. Think about how you would feel if your home were threatened or you lost your accomodations somehow. Even the most basic things would be difficult to come by as easily as they are at home. Now, maybe I’m just yammering on myself about something I don’t understand, but I don’t write spy novels either. I’m just sayin’.
Take my character Rayne, for example. She lives in a city that would be the historical equivalent of a feudal or medieval community in our world. Magic exists there, but it comes to different people in different ways and it follows rules. So, I may not know a damned thing about actual magic, but I can apply my ideas to a system and create an ability that my character posesses, something that makes her unique and also valuable to others, some who want to exploit her talents. She also knows horses. That is a love I share with her and, having owned a horse in the past, I can tap into that experience to write something with a genuine ring to it.
Same thing with Valerie Roark. She’s my main character in my contemporary story. She’s divorced (I never have been), she has siblings (I’m an only child) and she’s suffered the loss of a parent (mine are both doing quite well, thank you). I don’t personally know how any of these situations feels, but I have been hurt, I have friends who have lost a spouse through divorce or death and I can only imagine how they feel, but imagine I do. I try to learn as much as I can about the people around me, to be a good friend, and to try to understand their feelings. And it can help me write.
In lieu of actual experience, there’s always research. I am an employee of a state university so I theoretically have access to their library system. I have yet to take advantage of this benefit. I suppose if I were writing something that had actual historical facts mixed up in it, I wold try to find out as much about the backdrop as I could, but I haven’t written anything like that yet. Maybe someday…