I’ve never been murdered or committed a murder. Outside of pure memoir, you can’t build a narrative by writing only what you know.
So you can limit what you write, or you can stretch what you know. No surprise that I prefer the latter. Authors of nonfiction and fiction alike do intensive research. Beyond libraries, archives, and the Internet, they’re out there talking to people and visiting places.
Some authors of police procedurals have worked as homicide detectives. Many more list a police department in their acknowledgements, with thanks for showing the author the inner workings of the job. Lately I’ve asked friends about dyslexia and cat behavior. Drafting a scene of fifteenth-century hand-to-hand combat in all its gory detail, I may consult an expert in historical swordsmanship.
Imagination takes us down haunted corridors we’ll never walk in real life. But wise writers walk down similar corridors, when possible, even without the ghosts. When you haven’t been there, go as close as you can to avoid getting it just plain wrong. I once read a student essay that described Holland as brilliantly colored with tulips on every hillside. It sounds plausible until you see a photograph of the flat, flat tulip fields of Holland, with nary a hill in sight.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.