Probably the most talked about writing adage of all time is, “Write what you know.”
The phrase often causes confusion amongst writers. After all, if we ONLY wrote what we *literally* know, there would be no science fiction or fantasy, plus all Crime and Horror novelists and screenwriters would *need* to be serial killers! And that’s just for starters.
However, thinking about it metaphorically may produce disatisfying results, too. The notion that one HAS to be a woman (or vice versa), to write from the female perspective seems bizarre. As I am fond of reminding the Bang2writers, B2W has seen NO *automatic* correlation between “good” female characters and the gender of the people writing them. I could say the same of race, class, disability, LGBT status and so on, too.
No writer is exempt from being *able* to write a story, but at the same time not all of us can automatically do a *particular* story or issue justice, either. This is why research is so crucial, as is ensuring we use multiple sources and not just one.
It’s also worth thinking about the level of complexity we need, too: we don’t want to overthink it, OR undercook it. Plus just because a particular character is an asshole, doesn’t mean the writer automatically is either (or vice versa!).
A writer doesn’t *have* to have lived something first hand to *get it* or to write about it. Empathy is the name of the game when it comes to writing.
Another key factor worth remembering is that sometimes, we must allow the marginalised to tell their own stories. It’s a difficult balancing act, but one writers should contemplate.
Its interesting you mentioned research, because when I ventured out of my comfort zone by writing a screenplay about a female “social path” killer, I knew nothing about the behavior, or social traits of such individuals, plus I also knew nothing about police procedure, except for what little I see in many of the current TV shows. So, I really had to do lots of research (thank heavens for Google) ANF even though it was exhausting at timed, I had the most fun I have ever had, plus for the very first time I had to outline in order to keep track of all the evidence involved in the crime. Hope my experience helps other Spec writers, here in their journey.
Yes, it’s funny how we THINK we know about a subject — but don’t. Doing our research and our due diligence as writers is SO important.