One of the very first pieces of advice I ever heard regarding writing fiction was the simple statement: "Write what you know."
Okay, sure, on the surface it seems simple. Logical. Then follows the assumption that the only way to truly know something is to have lived it. Ah, yeah... I really don't think anyone wants to read about a stay-at-home mom with five kids. Hey, I could be wrong, but my life is not that interesting. Happy, but rather dull -- just the way I like it. ;)
So, does this mean if I haven't been an astronaut or a CIA agent, then I probably won't write a believable story about either? Okay, no, I do not plan to write anything set at NASA and I've done the later already... SECRETS AND SHADOWS. But I've never been a secret agent. I truly doubt any of the writers who have penned a romance including a spy hero or heroine ever worked for the FBI. I could be wrong.
If you do enough of the right kind of research, as a writer you should be capable of creating anything and making your reader believe in it. I've never been to Ireland, but I wrote a story set there -- ALAINA'S PROMISE. Reviewers and readers alike praised the book. One wrote how she 'fell in love' with the country and its people by reading that novel.
That was a case where my research combined with talent paid off. :) Does that mean I hit the mark? In some ways, yes. But few readers have ever been to 1870s Ireland, so I doubt I'll ever know how accurate my descriptions were.
All this said, I do feel there are some things you cannot simply read about and then write well. The foremost would be emotions. If I had never been in love, I'm not sure I could ever write a romance. Maybe I could read someone else's book and then repeat back the sensations and feelings conveyed. But even then, using my own words, I don't think it would ring true. You have to understand or have felt something before you can describe it to someone else. Otherwise, it's like trying to explain snow to someone who has never seen it when you've only seen it in a picture. You're missing way too much.
Yes, there are many other emotions involved in my writing. Despite popular opinion, romances are not all about the sex.
There's anger, deep hatred, lust, fear, greed, envy, sadness and depression. I have experienced each and every one of them -- plus others -- at some point in my life. Therefore, yes, I can write a murder scene and make you feel the anger of the killer or the fear of the victim. Have I ever killed anyone? Obviously not -- unless you count the occasional insect or two. But I have a basis in understanding those feelings I think might be involved. I can and do imagine the rest.
So I will add my own two cents of advice to the sage: "Write what you know." ... Go out and experience life. Find out what it's like to be a true friend; to fall in love. Discover every positive emotion ... and learn to control the destructive ones. But learn to feel... for without feelings, there is little point to living or writing.
Then when you want to write a story... a really good story... you'll understand your characters more thoroughly, and even the most mundane setting or character can be made riveting and real. Almost anything beyond your normal experiences can be found during research. A true writer can imagine or create the rest.