I know! Because he wrote about our encounter with those hostile aliens as through they were neighbors pissed off because Herbert's dog always barked in the middle of the night and because Herbert never picked up his newspapers from the lawn. But Herbert never met a Martian. (Not that I was there when he wrote War of the Worlds in 1898, but I'm almost certain.)
"Then, how did he write it then? Cuz that would be writing what you don't know."
Yep. That's what it is. And that make our job [writing] so damned cool.
Writers are naturally a curious bunch, always reading and wondering and imagining things. And if we only wrote about the stuff we knew about first-hand, then there would be a glut of stories involving Uniball pens, The World of Warcraft, The Writer's Journey and recaps of the final season of "The Wire."
When I wrote A Quiet Storm, I had not experienced bipolar disorder in my personal life, nor did I know anything about losing a husband to the Pacific like Nicole does in The View from Here. I've never painted a room purple one day only to paint it orange four days later. And I've never had an affair, and therefore, never lived with that type of guilt. I've popped Valium twice in my life (after Lasik surgery) but never enough of anything to start seeing the dead.
"How did you write about all that, then?" you ask.
Research. Reading. Talking to people who have experienced all that I'm curious about. Then, I read some more. And I read about subjects tangentially related to the original subject.
I do most of my research after the completion of my first draft -- while I'm writing that first draft, I don't know a lot about my story so I hold off on the Googles.
For instance, in the story I'm working on now, the heroine (I don't even know her name right now) started out as a cop. But as I wrote, I decided that I wanted her to be a claims investigator of an insurance company. Now, do I do any claims investigators? Nuh un. But my neighbor sells insurance and I'm sure he knows one, and so I will get a referral from him and email this person and pick her brain and then go to the Googles and learn so much stuff that every conversation I'll have thereafter will feature a tidbit about insurance.
So, you must read. You must read everything. You must become a Google whore.
Here are a few of my favorite information sites you may find handy:
The Quotations Page
How Stuff Works
Forensic Science Resources