While this advice is almost a cliché, it is also true. Most of us write what we know, or we learn about it well enough to fool most, if not all, readers.
I know two people who write with characters in the military. One of them is ex-Navy. The other has a mother who retired from military and is a volunteer for Soldier’s Angels, among other things. Both have knowledge beyond the layperson, and neither has a problem letting me know if I make a mistake.
Not that I write about the military, but if I did, I’d run it by them for critique.
Science fiction has a basis in fact, but any time you run into an alien civilization or culture, we lose most places where we can reference something. And it has to be human, in some way, shape, or form. A science fiction writer must abide by the known science at the time, but after that he’s free to build whatever or whomever he wants.
I miss the days of Martians. So many of the classics I read have them featuring prominently.
The question then runs – what about fantasy writers? What is it about them that gives us a reference to write about dragons, vampires, or magic? These things have never been proven to exist… Proven being a key word to use. I suppose no one can prove without a doubt that there is a god out there, either, yet religion thrives outside the fantasy field.
Is it a coincidence that L. Ron Hubbard, science fiction writer, also created a religion? Or is it simply something that stems out of the mind of an extremely creative person to get others to buy in? Did he believe any of it, or did he just build it and they came?
I forgot who said it recently, but an agent asked at a gathering where the speaker was telling the hapless authors to give credentials about their work, what credentials gave her authority to write about vampires? She never got an answer. The speaker changed the subject. Lovely.
What references can I provide for my science fiction and fantasy forays? I love to imagine what isn’t there. That served me well as an engineer to design new products and redesign to improve existing ones. It also lets me paint pictures with words of things no one has imagined yet. I’m not going to put that on my fiction cover letters, though.