Write about what you know is pretty good advice. It is possible to write about what you don’t know, but whenever you do you’re going to have to make sure that your research is spot on. The wonderful thing about Google is that you have a world of information at your fingertips. The not so wonderful thing is that not all of that information is accurate. So when I’m looking for specific facts I always find at least a couple of different sources to be sure that I’m not using flawed or bogus articles.
Most of us have felt the gamut of emotions to one degree or another, so those are fairly easy to convey. I believe though, that there are some extreme emotions that would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible for most – not all – writers to communicate unless they’ve lived them. So all the research in the world isn’t going to help you there. Readers are a canny lot. I know, because I’m one of them. If the subject is something they have a deep and personal knowledge of, you’ll probably lose them right there.
Mental illness is not something you’re going to understand unless you’re a psychiatrist, or you’ve lived it, although there is enough information available to research the experiences of others in certain instances. If you want to get inside the mind of a serial killer there is plenty of information out there, so there is absolutely no need for you to be writing what you know in this instance. Hopefully you aren’t. Not all people feel the same degrees of love or empathy, and those emotions can never be learned through research. Emulated possibly, but never learned. You’re going to have to be a brilliant scribbler to be able to write about the deep pain some empaths will feel at the suffering of another, or about a soul destroying, all encompassing love, if you’ve never felt anything like it.
Nuts and bolts on the other hand are a totally different kind of thing. You don’t have to travel to different dimensions through wormholes to write about them. Obviously you weren’t around when heads were rolling off the guillotine in France, or when the west was wild, or when Atlantis sank beneath the waves. Science fiction writers should research scientific facts and theoretical physics to write about warp drives and multiple universes if they aren’t going to raise the brows of die-hard fans of the genre. When writing a story in a specific historical era, again research is an absolute must if you don’t want a glaring blooper to jar your readers away from reading it. Even if your tale is fantasy, where you really do get to make it all up, a little research could make all the difference. I use a lot of mysterious ancient sites on Earth, and myths and legends in my stories, because I find them fascinating and so do many other people. For me, a little bit of fact makes fiction much more fun to read, and all stories have to be credible within their genre if I’m going to stay absorbed. Image Credit: Wiki Commons