I am a firm believer in write what you know. If you are planning to write about something you have no experience of, it will show in your characters and in your plot line. Why not just go and experience it? However, I know there are limits. Fantasy is one genre particularly affected by the statement ‘write what you know’, because how can you know about something that doesn’t exist? Personal experience can only go so far.
Take murder mysteries for example. Let’s say you’re writing about a serial killer. I’m not saying you should go and become one so that you can write about it effectively (seriously, please don’t do that!). What I am saying, though, is that you can’t expect to just write about it for it to be believable.
Writing workshops or online articles alike will tell you that to write a good character you need to know them like you know your best friend or your sibling. You need to know everything about them. I strongly disagree – you just need to know them well, you need to be able to become that character. Again, don’t go so far as to become a serial killer yourself. Instead, get inside their head. Think: if I lacked empathy or I were a sociopath, how would that impact my relationships with others? How would I respond to this situation? What would I be like if I were a victim of abuse or I just won the lottery?
A powerful narrative voice is, in my opinion, a crucial aspect of any successful text
It’s not good enough to just know a character – you should be able to get so far into their head that you can predict exactly what they would do if they were a real person. This way, your story effectively writes itself and you will bring the character alive on the page. It will be like they truly are writing this, not you. A powerful narrative voice is, in my opinion, a crucial aspect of any successful text.
In every character or story, there will be a little bit of you, and this is what makes stories shine. Maybe it’s not a hugely important part of the plot line or the character, but something will be there, whether it’s a slight quirk or a fragment of an experience in your own life – there’s nothing wrong with that.
But what if you want to write about something you don’t know? Research. The whole purpose of research is to gain a better understanding of something than you had previously. So, gather up Google and read some articles, or interview people who have more experience in that area than you. With technology nowadays, it’s so easy to find a wealth of knowledge on pretty much anything.
Ultimately though, writing is about creativity and whatever you may be writing can only go so far with facts, knowledge and experience. I don’t believe we should let a lack of experience prevent us from writing something we believe needs to be said. We shouldn’t be put off by exploring new avenues, we just need to make sure that we do a bit of research first.
If anything, exploring new things and new mindsets won’t only improve your writing but could also work well for your personal growth. Perhaps if we all tried to think from someone else’s shoes the world would be a better place for it.