I'm sure many of you writers have heard the old adage, “Write what you know.” I have, over and over, but I've always wondered, what about us speculative fiction types? Are we supposed to enroll in NASA so we can experience a spacewalk before writing about life beyond Earth's gravitational field? Should we don suits of medieval armor and traipse across the countryside looking for dragons to slay (and dodging the men in white coats)?Read the whole thing. Sprunk's ideas include (rather unsurprisingly) a nod towards the need to research unfamiliar topics. Sure, it sounds basic, but I've found it to be a great boon. During my time at The Magazine, one senior writer always delegated research duties to junior staff and simply plugged their data into his prose. His finished pieces usually sounded more than a little like whomever he'd charged with flipping through magazines or scouring online databases. Research may not be the most thrilling task. Sometimes toiling through reams of information, most of which you know you'll never use, feels like trying to start a fire with flint. You work the iron hard as you can, and yet the tinder remains stubbornly inert. But we keep at it, because who knows which spark will cause that first tendril of smoke to rise?
Of course not. Practical experience, where feasible, is a good thing. Knowing how to shoot a bow, load a gun, build a campfire, or catch your own dinner can add verisimilitude to your stories. But writers have a much more important—perhaps even sacred—duty to their readers. They must capture the imagination. Although the inclusion of details can help (in moderation), it's not the whole story, if you'll pardon the pun. A writer must be able to write what she or he doesn't know, and do it so convincingly that ninety-nine percent of the readers will never know the difference. And the one percent who do may forgive you if you tell a good story along the way. ...
So what are the keys to writing what you don't know?
(Picture: CC 2009 by particle)