Should writers write what they know about or has this age-old sage piece of advice become something of a cliché. Of course, every question solicits a multitude of answers but this is one that would benefit from a little perspective.
It’s easy to take it at face value and begin writing from personal experience and there are certainly a host of bestsellers out there who have made the big time by drawing on their own experiences. Authors like Andy McNab (the pseudonym and pen-name for Steven Billy Mitchell, CBE,) and Former policewoman Clare Mackintosh who’s a Sunday Times bestseller readily spring to mind but is it the depth of their procedural knowledge that fires the imagination or something a little more elusive. The thing is, simply being knowledgeable on a subject isn’t enough. There are plenty of ex-soldiers and law enforcement officers trying their hand at fiction who will never sell more than a paltry handful of books. Experience is great but only if you can turn it into fiction that comes across as authentic and to do this an author needs to connect with his or her readers on an emotional level.
On cursory reflection, it might seem an easy thing to do and yet so many authors miss the mark with it taking an author at the very top of their game to really get it right. Writing is all about using a reader’s curious nature to draw them deeper into a story’s narrative and the very best way to do this is by baring a protagonist’s deepest thoughts and emotions, which in turn allows us to make an empathic connection with a fictional (or otherwise) character.
To do this an author must know their characters inside out. After all, if a character doesn’t come alive for its creator who will it come alive for? Protagonists in particular need to feel like flesh and bone and to do this they need realistic traits, desires and foibles that readers can identify with.
Writing about what you know automatically puts you at an advantage, especially if it’s an intriguing and controversial subject. It can be exciting too, just remember to keep it real and this age-old sage piece of advice may well catapult you to the top of the bestseller charts!