I think I can honestly say that I have never been dead.
Nope. Never. (Unless I’m currently in some weird life-heaven in which I have to pay bills and wear pants when I leave the house.)
But the first short story I published–in a magazine called Conclave–was about a girl who falls for a boy she later learns died in a car accident the week before they met. He was cute. He was dead.
Write what you know? I’m pretty sure James Dashner has never lived in a maze, and I have a feeling Ransom Riggs has never been in a loop–though I’m positive he’s Peculiar–and even though Tolkien sort of looked like a hobbit, there’s no way he’s ever been to the top of Mount Doom.
So how do writers write about things they’ve never experienced first-hand?
Stephen King discusses this in his book, On Writing…
Consider John Grisham’s breakout novel, The Firm. In this story, a young lawyer discovers what his first job, which seemed too good to be true, really is–he’s working for the mafia…I’d bet my dog and lot that John Grisham never worked for the mob…He was once a young lawyer, though, and he has clearly forgotten none of the struggle.
I’ve never been dead, and I’ve never met a ghost. But I have been a teenage girl in love. I’ve lived in a country town. I’ve been bullied. I’ve been introverted and misunderstood.
So, in actuality, I am writing what I know.
And sometimes when we come up with our ideas and plot them out and become these characters and tell their stories, these “things we know” and “things we are” will weave their way between the lines without us knowing. Not until we realize we’ve accidentally told a metaphorical story of our summer in France (Never been to France. Want to go so bad!) but with aliens and spaceships and rad blasters the size of tanks.
There are no aliens and spaceships and rad blasters the size of tanks in France. But you were. And so was your big, squishy brain. Add some Sci-Fi and now you have one helluva page turner.