Write about what you know.
I would like a dollar for every time I have heard this advice. And it does have value. Just don’t be fooled into thinking you are limited to writing only about your familiar everyday surroundings.
Start to tap into this source by creating a list of WHAT I KNOW. Start with entries like:
- small details of that job I did in the school holidays when I was a kid
- skills I learned from a grandparent
- slightly embarrassing details of my first date/ first love affair
- the desperate loneliness when I struggled to learn parenting
- what it feels like to be the casualty in a traffic accident.
And more. Once you start, you will realise how many odd pockets of information you can tap into for stories and for background.
But what about information outside your experience? For example, you may want your character to have spent a night in a lockup, or to have witnessed a bank holdup, or to have murdered someone. How can you write convincingly about something of which you have no experience? Can it be done? It most certainly can be done! Think of all those marvellous historical novels, written hundreds of years after the events described. And what about cowboy and Indian stories, still being produced today?
The secret is research. You simply need to discover as much as you can about your subject, put yourself into the shoes – that is, into the entire life – of your character, and start writing. Google is your best friend here, but nothing beats an actual visit to a setting, and a talk with locals. So you may want to visit your local Police Station, or the Court House. Or spend an afternoon exploring a National Heritage house and garden. Or visit behind the scenes at a hospital, or a restaurant, or a local business. Ask – you will be amazed how interested people are in what writers do. More people will welcome you than refuse you.
And read. Immerse yourself in information of the place and period. Watch movies, listen for idiomatic speech, observe landscape and clothing details. All these can be recycled into your story.
You know about human interactions, you know about emotions, you know all the details of your own complex life. And you have access to vast realms of information. So, yes, write about what you know about, what you had forgotten you knew about, and what you can learn. Use it all to create richly detailed, compelling stories.