This week was marked by a fun little phenomenon called tornadoes. Wednesday, seven or more tornadoes decided to pay the suburbs an unannounced visit. Fortunately, nobody was killed, the damage was contained, and for most people, life returned to normal. For those people who had property damage, lost trees, etc., things will return to normal sooner rather than later. It was rather unusual that these particular tornadoes were visible from Chicago, and the bad weather that followed did roll through the city. But for the most part this is another tornado season in the Midwest.
Why am I telling you all this? Basically, these are my Tornado Alley credentials. I have been through a few tornado close-calls, a few derechos (look it up), and other weather-related events, so I have the experience base to write about a run-in with bad weather. My job, as a writer, is to make sure that I provide front-line details and intimate descriptions that communicate to my reading audience the reality of a tornado experience. However, this is an active process. I can't just tell the reader, "Believe me, I know what I'm talking about," even though I do. I have to think about all the little details that I have experienced, and pour those onto the page in a way that they do the convincing for me. My job, at this point, is to surround the reader with my experiences, and bring them into that space.
Now, since not everyone has experienced a tornado firsthand, their job as a writer is two-fold: get details and information from those who have been through it, and appeal to the emotional side of an experience in a way anyone could understand. You don't need to have had this experience to know fear is a factor, perhaps tinged with a morbid excitement. And like any disaster, looking at the aftermath in person comes with a certain amount of horror and awe, mixed in with the guilty feeling from looking at a destroyed house and thinking, "I'm glad that's not me." (Yes, people think that.)
In short, making experiences believable helps if you've been through it yourself, but we can't always count on that, so write about the parts you can relate to, and get information from other sources to help fill in the blanks. Making things real sometimes requires more effort than you might realize, but it all pays off when your writing puts someone through an experience in exactly the way you imagined.