My protagonist works in a pharma company and I really don't have a clue about how they work, what kind of a life they live and all.

It is required for the plot to make him work in a company which produces drugs. At first, I thought of biotechnology and then ultimately landed in pharmaceuticals because well, they're the same (how stupid of me!).

I know that one should write what he is an expert in. But this piece of work revolves around two things of equal importance. One of them is the company's conspiracies.

Now, I am an undergraduate and I really do not know how my protagonist's professional life will be. Will my imagination suffice to construct the company, their history and his work-life or will I need to dive in the ocean of R&D? If so, can anyone please guide me as to where can I get an elaborated view of a pharma official's life-style (except searching for a real person who does work in one and ask him directly)?

  • Asking for subject matter expertise is off-topic for this site. Asking how to find it may be more on-topic, though. Answers should focus on how to get the expertise, not trying to provide a specific answer.
    – justkt
    Jan 4, 2012 at 23:18
  • @Justkt, I understand that and that is the reason i never asked to give me the elaborated view. I asked " guide me as to where can I get an elaborated view". Meaning that i'll find out. Just show me the right way to go which i believe you all always do. Thanks a ton! Jan 5, 2012 at 0:14
  • Read Ben Goldacre's book Bad Pharma. It'll give you some clues.
    – TRiG
    Feb 1, 2013 at 23:33
  • Asking directly is probably one of the best ways to do it. Do you know how much stuff you can get a way with just by ending your question with "It's for a book?"
    – hszmv
    Apr 6, 2018 at 20:15

3 Answers 3


Why do you not want to ask a real person directly? Most people are pleased if they can tell about their job, especially when an author says he wants to write about it in a novel.

This "writing what you know" is becoming more and more dangerous, because it is widely misinterpreted. It's just an advice, that you shouldn't be too disappointed if you try to write literary fiction and all you have ever read are romance stories (and vice versa). So skip that "expert" nonsense.

You are a writer. Your job is to make things up. You can even do that without any research. Some readers don't even care if what you write is like it works in real life. After all they bought a fiction novel. Just look at movies. I'm a programmer and I can tell you that every movie I have seen where a hacker is involved tells you totally rubbish. But most people don't care (probably because they do not know better).

Now let us they you care (or you care about the readers who care). Then asking people working for a pharma company is the easiest way to get the interesting details. An internet search should give you a good start also. Yes, it's work, but don't expect someone is doing your job and gives you an already elaborated view.

If you want to please the readers who care, then research is part of your job. And very likely it will be a remarkable quality improvement for your whole story, even for readers who do not care about the details.

  • 6
    If you read the blog of John Rogers, writer/creator of TNT's Leverage, he's mentioned several times that people are completely delighted to tell you all the boring details of their jobs. People love being considered to be an expert on something. Tell them straight up that you're writing a book and you need realistic detail. Buy your source a drink, turn on your recording device, and relax for the next two hours. kfmonkey.blogspot.com/2010/11/… is one post of Rogers's; there are others if you hunt around. Jan 4, 2012 at 21:33
  • Well, i would love to ask someone directly. But i thought maybe they are too busy and why will someone share their experience with me for my so-called-novel! I even tried to search for a pharma official but then i couldn't find the (if you may call it:)courage to actually go up there and knock the door. But as you guys said, I guess i was thinking the wrong way! Jan 5, 2012 at 0:11
  • @Lauren, Thank you! Will definitely check it out! Jan 5, 2012 at 0:15
  • It's a fantastic blog. He's a great writer and a great blogger, and the show kicks all kinds of ass. You can't lose. :) Jan 5, 2012 at 1:40
  • 1
    I second the researching: knowing about the reality of your protagonist’s work life will feed your imagination, strengthen your storyline and plot, and will help you to avoid falling back on cliches. Apr 6, 2018 at 1:10

Please do some research!

Books where the author has done prior research are better reads. This is especially true if your audience has the job you're writing about or does the thing you're describing. Not knowing what you're talking about leads to unbelievable plots and it alienates people who do know a little about the subject you're writing about. Research will also give you more material to use when planning your story and when describing details.

Suspended disbelief will only get you so far.

For you specifically:

  1. Listen to podcasts with interviews of people in the area your character works in. There are lots of professional and industry specific podcasts that chat about work life.
  2. Look up some industry journals. Most of the articles will be technical information but some of them will be career advice or interviews.
  3. Search for and read job descriptions on a hiring site. These will have a general list of job duties and qualifications.
  4. Email someone in the field with a few questions - you might feel nervous about cold-emailing someone but I bet you will be shocked at how many people are willing to engage with people they don't know.

John Smithers touched on something that I believe is really important.

The idea behind "write what you know" is that you should understand the subject matter well enough that you won't smack a reader out of disbelief with your ignorance or undermine your thematic concerns with naivete.

As John answered, your solution is to acquire the knowledge that you lack. "Writing what you know" is a call to diligence, not a prerequisite check.

In the course of learning about that field, you may realize you need to revise your plot or characters. In order to tease that information out of anyone you engage, identify any key plot points or character behaviors in advance so you can ask the right questions.

  • I like to tell people write what you know is the worst advice you can get as a new writer. Write about something you don't know anything about from your experience, but write in a way that no one knows you don't know about it.
    – hszmv
    Apr 6, 2018 at 20:17

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