How often are we reminded that as writers we should only write what we know. If I were to adhere to that, then my writing would be very limited and I would probably only be able to eke out two or three books based on different variations of the same theme. You can write about what you do not know and you can do it well. It is called research.
Five Places to Go for Research
The internet can lead you to all sorts of sites that will help you research your subject as well as lead you onto other paths that you had not thought about before. But buyer beware: you will need to verify anything you find on the internet as some of it can be dubious.
The library is a great source as well. I love the library–it is such a great concept–reading available to everyone for free! Librarians are there to help and can be a great asset when doing research. They really are unsung heroes but that is a post for a different day.
If it is possible, go to the actual place of your novel’s setting. Whether it is downtown Toronto or the Cornwall coast in England, nothing will help you describe your setting better than by actually experiencing it and discovering its history. (If travel is definitely out then I refer you to number one — travel blogs can be an amazing resource.)
Interviews. Say you are writing a book about the experiences of a WWII veteran, after reading a few books about them, try to find someone you can interview. Unfortunately, the years are passing and there are not many left. Or you can talk to the daughter of a vet and ask how his experiences affected his homecoming. Writing about a medieval knight? Ring your local university and have them direct you to the nearest expert. Think outside the box.
Take a class to learn more about your subject. Perhaps your main character is a stained glass artist–and the only thing you know about stained glass is what you see in your church’s windows. Find a class teaching that craft and immerse yourself in it.
And then there is the research of your subject through books, DVDS and newspaper articles.
There are lots of ways to do research and not only will you learn something that you did not know before, but it can be quite fun as well. By the time you have finished doing your research, you will know what you are writing about.