Write what you know
For: it makes sense, you know? If you want to write something authentic, what could be better than first hand experience?
Against: Except… IT DOESN’T ALWAYS MAKE SENSE! Do you think crime writers commit crimes? Space opera writers live in space? Do you think Andy Weir actually went to Mars?!
If I stuck to writing only what I know, my books would be tales from a stationary hoarder with a side-plot of rants about people who use pop-up flashes. Not exactly riveting.
I think it’s a great start to have existing knowledge in whatever/wherever your story is based. But you should never be afraid of researching and learning about things you don’t know. It’s actually loads of fun.
Take ten-pin-bowling, for instance. I didn’t have a bloody clue about it. But then one of my stories called for a character who was MAD about bowling. By day, he’s the lovable Welsh bowling champion, The Wrangler. By night, he’s The Strangler. It’s a heart warming tale. Honest.
So what did I do? Well I didn’t go… oh crap-sticks, this guy can’t be a ten-pin bowler! He’ll have to be a photographer who rants about pop-up flashes in his spare time. I researched the HELL out of it. I learnt all the (frankly worrying) names for high-end bowling balls – and the best bit? They totally played into the whole psychopath/Strangler vibe: Cold-Blood Hammer, War-Monger, First Blood… Honestly, I think the ten-pin bowling crowd are a wacky bunch.
I researched the sport, and the equipment, and the lingo, and I think I made a pretty authentic Welsh bowling psychopath.
So back to Emily’s Final Thought: write what you know if that’s your bag, but you don’t have to. There’s loads of info on that there interwebz, and there’s lots to be learnt from, ya know… TALKING TO PEOPLE. And there’s also a lot of leeway for whatever your grey-matter can churn out. Imagination is the best tool we have. We are writing fiction, after all.