by Lis Wiehl

I’m the daughter of an FBI agent. I’ve been a federal prosecutor. I was a television reporter for fifteen years. So, when I dreamed up the women for my Triple Threat thriller series, it was natural to make them a TV reporter, an FBI agent, and a Federal Prosecutor. Having lived all of their lives in the real world, I could put those lives on the fictional page. The adage “write what you know” was never more true for me than when writing fiction.

True, my background is pretty fiction-worthy. But what do you know? Everyone has experiences and knowledge that are special or unique. What’s normal to you could be fascinating to others. In more ways than you might think.

Embrace your real-life experience

Whether going after bad guys or reporting on the crimes of others, I use what I know – from experience – to inform and enhance my fiction. What seems like everyday fare to me is a whole new inside world to people who have been around law enforcement from the time they were born! But if you’ve grown up studying science, or forestry, or accounting, or farming, or car mechanics, use it. You know about how airplanes work, what trees are indigenous to certain places and how to identify leaves, how to keep a double set of books, how to ride a horse, how to disable a truck. Moms know how to understand motivation, cajole, hide things, surprise people, manipulate, teach, create, organize, survive, succeed. Seems everyday to you – but to readers, it can be amazing. Make what you know in your world interesting to your readers in theirs.

Choose your gems

Is every little last thing of what happens in the courtroom interesting? Of course not. That’s where my judgment as the author comes in. You are not making a transcript of your real life and transferring it to the page. I choose which scene to focus on, which piece of evidence to examine, what dialogue to place in quotes. And remember, the exact things that happen in real life do not need to happen on the page! It’s fiction.

Be authentic

On the other hand, where there’s a fact or system or law or reality that comes from real life, make sure you get it right. That’s part of what makes you special. If you’re a doctor, for instance, you know how annoying it is when novels and TV get it wrong. But you’re lucky, you can use your expertise to enhance your story, not detract from it.

Even in your area of expertise, double check. Readers can sniff out the truth, and we hope they do! So when you aren’t sure about the facts, do your research.

Get to know your characters

In real life, you may know someone only as the defense attorney, or the judge, or the suspect. But unlike in reporting – when you get in, get the interview and get out – as an author you need to go deep into their lives. Don’t be afraid to explore motivations and goals. Again, this is not your keep-a-distance CPA job. This is a story.

Be a professional

As a journalist and a prosecutor, I would never – could never! – miss a deadline. Never skimp on the facts. Never shirk responsibility. And I’d work my hardest, every moment, to be the best I could be. As an author, I use those same motivations. It’s a massive responsibility to write a book. You get one chance at a time. Make it a home run by being a pro.

Keep your ears open

Once you start using your real life to enhance your fiction, you’ll be surprised how it will change your world. Annoyances become plot lines. Surprises become twists. Everyone you meet gives you insight into your characters.

Learn to see your world through an author’s eyes.

Sometimes the truth really is better than fiction. Keep a notebook with you and write down all your ideas. You never know when a plot will reveal itself.

How do you use your real life job to enrich your fiction? What suggestions do you have? Come chat with all the Career Authors on the Facebook page!


Lis Wiehl is one of the nation’s most prominent trial lawyers and highly regarded commentators. She is the author of 18 books, including Hunting Charles Manson: The Quest for Justice in the Days of Helter Skelter (Thomas Nelson, June 2018) and was a legal analyst and reporter for Fox News for fifteen years.
Lis is currently an anchor for the Law & Crime Network and a Professor of Law at New York Law School and the host of the podcast “Pursuit of Justice” available for download and subscription.