I think we can all agree that the John Wick movies would be nowhere near as magically magnificent as they are without Keanu Reeves. His dedication to being as realistic as possible is a testament to his professionalism. Likewise, we wouldn’t pay to see a ballerina who didn’t practice every day or a trumpeter with a weak embouchure.
These qualities are automatically expected and similar expertise is expected from authors. But how do we achieve that coveted expertise? The short answer is: you don’t . So long as you plan on weaving stories together there is always more to learn, making expertise as elusive and unachievable as perfection.
We can, however, work to curtail our lack of knowledge. ‘Write what you know’ is a used and abused piece of writing advice. I think of it more as a guideline than a hard and fast rule, but the concept does have merit. The only way to write what you know and achieve anything moderately interesting is by trying new things and by doing research.
Frank Herbert’s Dune didn’t appear out of thin air. He was inspired by a book by Lesley Blanch entitled Sabres of Paradise. Skillfull writing is as dependent on new information as we are dependent on air. We need to read, not just to see how others write, but also to be inspired by inspired ideas. But research isn’t just googling. It’s doing.
If I wanted to give one of my characters the power of flight I’d probably find a place where I could zipline. If I’m going to base the story of a multibook series in one location you can be sure I will be traveling to that location. Imagination is a powerful tool, but it can only carry you so far.
It is vital that you expose yourself to new things while simultaneously appreciating the every day. If I hadn’t been running late for class one winter evening I never would have discovered that becoming short of breath in the cold can lead to an almost iron-like taste in the mouth. Adding that little detail to a story will give the realism that readers crave, even if the story is otherwise completely unrealistic.
So read, research, and explore, my fellow writers!
Bye for now!