You may have heard the saying before, it's advice often given to writers just starting out. Write what you know.
Trouble is, I don't know any writers who do! Unless you're writing an autobiography, chances are you will have to write about something you don't have personal experience with. If you're writing sci-fi or fantasy (my two favourite genres), then you really can't get by without it. There will be magic, swordfighting, space travel, and who knows what else.
In Reckless Rescue, aside from the obvious space travel, I had an unexpected unknown – snow. Here in Australia, especially in sunny Queensland, we don't see much snow. It has, on a very rare occasion, snowed in Toowoomba, about a two hour drive away, and the Snowy Mountains are about 12+ hours away.
What I'm trying to say is that I've never seen snow. And there is a lot of snow in Reckless Rescue. Marlee's planet has a very harsh winter, where being snowed in, blizards and frostbite are all very real dangers.
So how do you write about something that you have no personal experience with?
It's all about the research.
The first port of call is your old friend Google. I managed to find astronauts descriptions of what takeoff felt like, the risk factors for frostbite, what it felt like to be burried in snow, and what sort of plants will survive the cold.
When that fails, I turn to forums. I like NaNoWriMo for this, especially during November, but the site is still active (albeit quieter) at other times of the year. There is a huge range of people with very varied experiences there, and chances are, someone will have an answer for you, or an idea of where to look for one.
How about you? What things have you had to research for your writing? What other places can you look for the answers?
I agree, you can’t exactly write what you know, especially in something like scifi. But you can expand from your own knowledge, backed up with research. For instance, you don’t ‘know’ what it would be like to visit an alien planet for the first time and meet aliens. But maybe you’ve been somewhere new with a culture different to your own, and remember the contrast. Different sights, smells, customs. Suddenly being the only European in an Asian city for example.
I think the worst thing I had to research was drowning. Someone told me it was peaceful, but after looking up some medical journals and our UK NHS Direct site (useful if you want to diagnose symptoms and first aid), it’s anything but! >_<
Twitter is a great place to shout out for help. You can ask people to RT your question, and generally an expert or two will pick up on it with an answer and/or suggestions on where to find the info. I quite often go to Wikipedia, but try not to rely on that. YouTube is handy too – I was looking up explosions in space for a space battle so I could make it as accurate scientifically as possible.
That’s so true. I hadn’t thought of the similarities between visiting another country and going to an alien planet. Thinking back to my one and only visit overseas (to Japan, so very different from here), it was incredibly disorientating at first. Then we started to discover a lot of similarities! By the end, it almost felt familiar. Would be good to write about the experience in such a different way.
Drowning doesn’t sound like fun to research! Much worse than frostbite!
I love how ready everyone is to help with information and tips. Wikipedia is a great place to start, and YouTube is brilliant! I just love how accessible information is these days.
I agree with the comment above – the emotional reactions you can base on your own experience, while the physical facts need to be researched (it reminds me of a quote I came across in a craft book recently, about facts being on the outside and truth being on the inside).
For my daily blog I use Google Streetview a lot to get an idea of what the place looks like, then Tripadvisor for positive and negative reactions: it’s great for showing how the same place (hotel or visitor attraction) can bring out completely different responses from people based on them and their expectations.
By the way, it would never have occurred to me, reading Reckless Rescue, that you had never been buried in snow!