Write what you know. That’s the big advice aspiring writers are always given. And there’s some truth to that. It is, after all, the easiest way to make your writing realistic.
I’m a former prosecutor. A Catholic school girl. White. Middle-class. Spoiled by my daddy. So guess what my protagonist looks like? If you guessed a younger, thinner, cuter version of me, you’d be right.
But there’s also something to be said for expanding your bag of tricks. Unless I only want to write one book series, or make everything I write from the perspective of the same character–me–I have to write about things I don’t know.
One thing I have found that helps is having someone who is similar to my character read that portion of what I’m writing to check my authenticity. I also read a lot of transcripts in my current job as an appellate attorney. I pay attention to things like expressions and vernacular used by people of various income brackets, whether it’s doctors testifying as experts, reluctant witnesses, or mothers of murder victims, people very different from me. I also eavesdrop on conversations wherever I go--Walmart is a particularly good place to pick up on some interesting conversations.
Finally, I do a lot of research specifically so I can write about things I don’t know, as well as the numerous things I used to know that I’ve forgotten. With the internet, an answer is just a click away.
I never copy anything verbatim and never borrow anyone’s conclusions or ideas. I also only use information if it appears on enough websites to consider it public or common knowledge, for instance the street name of a drug, the capital of a country, etc., so I’m not violating anyone’s copyright. If I could call someone and get the same answer to the question, it should be safe to use.