(I'm posting for Eli today, and she's posting for me on Tuesday. I'll be taking Tavy home to St. Louis for Easter. Think good traveling thoughts for us!)
Write what you know. It's sage advice that's become a cliche. I've been teaching basic writing for several semesters, and I've certainly found that students have an easier time writing about themselves. When you're struggling for ideas or AN idea, ANY idea, writing about the familiar can be comforting.
It's no surprise that memoir is so hot (to the point that people are trying to pass fiction off as memoir, but I digress)--people enjoy writing about their own lives. Why are so many fictional characters aspiring authors? Because WE'RE aspiring writers who once had boring day jobs. So we populate our books with book editors, publicists, magazine writers and editors, columnists, writers, professors, food writers, critics and others of the literary ilk. A lot times our characters even LOOK like us--or what we'd LIKE to look like.
My first three books were definitely of the write-what-you-know variety. Heroine #1 is a public defender in the Midwest (where I was born and raised). Heroine #2 is a curvy, smart girl who loves sweets. Heroine #3 is an insurance agent working in a small Oregon town. I haven't really had to do research for any of my books. But write-what-you-know hasn't exactly saved me from serious writer's block. Still, my purple idea book is littered with write-what-you-know ideas.
Why then am I currently gripped by a plot and characters that are VERY out of my element? I can't seem to NOT write this story. However, I'm worried that I can't pull it off. Hero is Hispanic, and I don't have a lot of personal connection to this culture. Heroine is a doctor, and I'm clearly not a doctor, although my hypochondria has given me a Google M.D. They live in Chicago, and while I've visited, I've never lived there. Oh, and there's a serial killer--this isn't exactly my usual romantic comedy fare.
Do you need to have a personal connection to write characters of other races? Is it possible to write authentic out-of-your-element stories? I know it is--many NYT bestsellers to back that idea up, but I think I'm worried that I personally can't pull it off and would be better off pursuing a different story.
What do you do? Can you tell when an author is writing outside her scope of experience? What gives it away? Do you write about what you know? When did you make the leap to writing out-of-your-element stories? What do you do to ensure their success? Research? Interviews? Anyone have good resources for a bilingual character?