If your fiction is to live, something deeply immediate and personal must be at its heart. Mark Twain made up stories, but he knew the Mississippi River, its people and its dialects. Hawthorne wrote about events that happened long before he was born, but he knew New England and its customs. Melville’s fantastic voyages, although drenched in literary and encyclopedic sources, were launched from his own knowledge of the sea. Virginia Woolf created a character who lived for four centuries, but that character was inspired by a person she loved. Orwell invented a world of the future but it was based on his deep understanding of his own society.
Jerome Stern, Making Shapely Fiction (via the-right-writing)