Write what you know. Writers are always getting that advice. I have a little broader definition of “what I know” than most but bottom line is that in general this is true. That does not mean a young mother and housewife in Houston should only write about kids, marriage and Texas, it means she could. for instance, extrapolate the pride she feels in her son’s soccer win to create a patriotic officer in an intergalactic war.
As a personal example, I have never abandoned a friend at a funeral home run by someone who buys prostitutes to pose nude with freeze dried corpses. But when I wrote scenes in my novel Painted Black from the point of view of my character Chris, who did just that, I can empathize with the guilt he feels. My decision to leave my husband years ago resulted in disastrous consequences for my two sons and my relationship with them.
While we eventually found stable ground and built new relationships, I suffered years of grief and guilt and to this day have twinges of regret for what was lost. I know why my character Chris is so haunted and driven to find out what happened to Lexie and understand his anger at the man who took her from him. Therefore I can write his experience with an authentic voice.
Reality can be twisted into fiction, but fiction can also teach us lessons about reality. When I was a teen, I loved reading gothic novels which were popular at the time.The heroine usually took a post at a huge mansion owned by a handsome, brooding widower. Think Heathcliff and Jane Eyre but without Charlotte Bronte to make it a classic piece of literature. Often the plot’s twists and turns depended on the hero and/or heroine keeping their thoughts and feelings to themselves. From this I learned that you can save yourself a lot of grief if you will just be open and honest with people.
Just as I learned what NOT to do, fiction can also teach us about ourselves. This Woman’s Day article, for instance, takes a look at romance novels and describes how even those so called “bodice-rippers” can teach you life lessons. The article states that the reader learns there are ways to deal with the struggles we experience and still end up happy.
Don’t expect to have a golden moment of revelation and insight as you’re reading a well written romance or mystery. The lessons, if done right, are subtle and I think more lasting due to that subtlety.
What I write is what I know, and what I know comes in large part, from what I’ve read.