“I expect what you’re not aware of would fill several books, Dursley.” – Mad-Eye Moody, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
If you’re a writer, chances are that you will come across the saying, “Write what you know.” However, I have always looked upon this saying with some skepticism. Frankly, I don’t know that much, especially when I first started writing. If I only wrote what I knew, I would be writing books about cake, Doctor Who, and funny cat pictures I find on the Internet.
Therefore, I believe that you should always try to write what you don’t know.
The prospect, of course, is daunting. You decide you’re going to write a book about a detective, or a doctor, or a dancer. But you are none of these things, and don’t know anyone who is. What do you do?
Research, research, and more research. This is where several people lose interest. Research can sometimes be time-consuming and droll. Other times, it can be enlightening; you can find the answer to a plot hole where you least expect it, or be inspired to write another layer into the story.
(Although be sure no one sees your browsing history, as this is a quick way to get people to avoid you).
The point of stepping out of your comfort zone and exploring new ideas, new history, new worlds, is to broaden not only your knowledge, but your story’s depth. I previously knew nothing about herbalism, but now I’m fairly confident in my ability to point out certain herbs and their uses in medicine, all because my character forced me to.
Not only can you lend true, interesting details to your work, but other people will be impressed with you as an added bonus. I have been asked several times if I’m a med student or planning to become a doctor, to which I say, no, I just write about one.
Sticking to what you know can be comforting, and certainly you can incorporate your previous knowledge (for instance, if you’re a black belt and want to write a martial arts story). But by taking an extra step and exploring topics and themes you never knew existed, your story will have more depth and you will discover fascinating things; things that make you smile, or gasp, or grimace. You may or may not also be a hit at parties (depending on what you research).
What’s been your favorite topic to research, or what have you been interested in looking into for a story?