A couple of years ago, my husband approached while I was reading and sat beside me on the couch. After a few minutes, I looked up. He seemed concerned. "Is there something you want to talk to me about?"
Color me puzzled. "Why?"
He pointed to the book I was reading. The Dance of Anger: A Woman's Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships
Oh, that. I said, "The only problem we're having is that you're married to a writer."
The truism is to "write what you know." That means it's your job to know everything.
You must become, officially, a know-it-all. Or at least, someone who knows how to find out the things she didn't know she needed to know.
My answer? Self-help books. I've already touted self-help books to become fluent in the way other people manage their relationships, but now I'm suggesting them for everything else too. I read self-help books for helps that I either never will need or hope never to need. Why? Because at some point, one of my characters is going to need it.
Your characters probably had a childhood. If you're mean like me, they probably didn't have wonderful, glorious childhoods. On my shelf are books like Raising Adopted Children, Motherless Daughters, and a half-dozen other books about fatherless daughters, abused children, treating traumatized children, and children of divorce.
Childbirth doesn't have to be all about how your character sailed through with an epidural and push-push-push: how about adding to your character's challenges with books by Ina Mae Gaskin, and then for the meta-analysis of birth, throw in a copy of Pursuing The Birth Machine and Birth As An American Rite of Passage? You may have your own experience with having babies or raising children, but since you need to write what you know, now it's time to know every other possible experience. With more possible choices in mind, you'll know better whether your main character might prefer to give birth unassisted in a tub in her living room.
It goes on and on: Boundaries by Townsend and Cloud for when you write your pushover character. The Art Of Verbal Self Defense books for your witty character. The Sociopath Next Door? The Gift Of Fear? Check out a book about how to run your own business even though you don't own a business. One of your characters might want to.
Moreover, the greater your knowledge base, the more opportunity you have to create interesting situations for your characters. Reading a book on management will give you plenty of examples of how lousy bosses operate -- and you may find yourself filling with ideas for future stories.
Right now I'm reading a book called How Not To Marry A Jerk. (Although I admit I'm afraid I'll discover my husband married a jerk.) Not because I want to get married again, but because I want to learn another perspective on dynamics for my characters' sakes. Someday, one of them may want to marry a jerk. It'll be my job then to know why she does it.
Read. Read fiction, but also read how-to. How to live. Then you too can be a know-it-all.
The Wrong Enemy, to be released by MuseItUp on September 28th. She is also author of The Guardian (Thomas Nelson, 1994), Seven Archangels: Annihilation (Double-Edged Publishing, 2008) and The Boys Upstairs (MuseItUp, 2010). At Seven Angels, Four Kids, One Family, she blogs about what happens when a distracted daydreamer and a gamer geek attempt to raise four children. She is represented by the riveting Roseanne Wells of the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency.