The only source of knowledge is experience.
Each day we go through hundreds if not thousands of experiences in a variety of ways. Those experiences don’t just leave us with memories, but knowledge as well which is what makes them such an important asset for a writer.
Experiences can do many things for a writer, the first of which is authenticity. Being able to infuse a novel with characters whose personalities you’ve met in real life, environments that you’ve seen yourself, and anthologies of events that happened to you can breathe an precedented level of realism into a story.
When I visited Venice, Italy I went on a gondola ride. Now, sitting in a boat that wasn’t much longer than I was tall and wobbled precariously just above the water sent a quiet panic through me that made me hold my breathe until we’d left the main canal behind. I haven’t written a scene where a protagonist takes a boat ride, but if I do, my experience will give me everything I need to describe it in vivid detail.
Another type of experience is knowledge. Know what your talking about, or be able to fake it convincingly. If you’re writing a spy thriller where the protagonist has to save the day by disabling a bomb, you’ll need to write more convincingly than ‘cut the red wire and not the blue’. However, unless you’re an FBI or CIA agent, you’re probably going to need to do some research before accurately portraying such a wondrous feet. Just be careful how you go about doing it. Wouldn’t want to start a panic, now would we?
Experiences can also be idea generators. Anybody whose written a book would probably agree that anything can spark an idea, including books by other author’s, video games, and movies. Fifty Shades of Grey (E.L. James) was inspired by Twilight (Stephanie Meyer). Pacific Rim (2013) clearly draws some inspiration from Godzilla. And Les Miserables was originally adapted to theater from the same titled book written by Victor Hugo in 1862.
Even some of my written inspirations have come from sources outside of my own head. The dystopian novel I just finished about Knights battling dragons was inspired by the Dragonheart movies, even though they have virtually nothing in common.
In short, experience is about going everywhere and doing everything, taking it in and cataloging it for future reference. And while venturing into the big, wide world is the best, you don’t even have to do that. Just open a book, boot up a game system, or slide a movie into your DVR.
Disclaimer: I do not own most of the imagery used in this blog post and have no artistic claim to it.