We’ve all heard “write what you know”, and that’s all well and good as far as it goes. But what happens if what you know could fill a thimble? Or if what you know is already well-written by others? Do you simply stop writing?
That’s the time when you step out and write what you want to know.
That’s the time you do some research into a topic that’s always interested you. That’s the time you branch out from what you know and specialize. For example, let’s say you are a bank teller, so you know about banking policies and procedures. Might make an interesting main character in a book or a series. Firewall, with Harrison Ford, was one such movie.
But let’s take your knowledge a little deeper. You’ve had training in spotting counterfeit currency and negotiable documents, so maybe that’s who your character is. You’ve had training in investments, so maybe your character is an investment banker. “Wait,” you say, “I don’t know anything about that.”
So now’s the excuse—and the time—to learn.
And here’s the great thing about research—you can also research settings. Say you have a great idea for a counterfeiter-turned-honest but you want the story set in San Jose, California because you need to be close to a naval base because your character has to try to break into a naval base with counterfeit documents. But you’ve never been to San Jose, CA.
That’s the time you take a trip there. Take lots of pictures, map out the city, pick where your hero lives, where he works, where he goes to the gym—decide where would make great settings for scenes, and go there. Now when you write about San Jose, your writing will have a layer of credibility you couldn’t have gotten any other way.
Writing what you know and writing where you know is always a good place to start, but when you need something new, think about writing what you want to know and where you want to go.
So, folks, join the conversation! If you’re a writer, where would YOU like to go for research with an idea for a story you have? Do share…in the comments section below.
♦ A note from Peg: While I agree with…and love Donna’s suggestion to GO where you want/need to go, but, realistically, it’s not always possible, unless it’s into town to visit a Real Estate Office, or a bank, for example. But if the person who wants to visit San Jose for story info lives in Pittsburgh…not so much.
My suggestion, though not as much fun as doing the actual travel, is to find someone who lives there, maybe through an email loop you belong to, or a relative, perhaps even a family member who has actually been there, or once lived there. And of course, there’s always Google, or Bing search, Google Earth…lots of places online to seek what information you’re looking for. Countless pictures to print to keep in your novel’s folder.