Thursday, November 13, 2008

Authenticity Matters

Writers read. Ask any one of us.

Newspapers, books, travelogues, blogs, magazines, periodicals, even cereal boxes are part of the daily diet of a good writer. Why? Because research never ends.

Weather you’re just starting out and you need to know the basic structure of a novel, or you’ve been at this gig for a while now and you decided the next book is going to include a taxidermist, every serious writer researches continuously.

That’s one of my favorite aspects of writing, because I love to learn and that’s part of the process. For accuracy and reader credibility, we look up even the tiniest detail if there’s any doubt.

Or you ask someone who knows.

Because research is more than just reading. In my first book, I have a minor character who is an auto mechanic. My husband is a huge car buff and knows everything about muscle cars (or any other four-wheel vehicle, for that matter). So I went to him to decide what make and model this character, who doesn’t have an enormous income, should drive. He came up with the perfect solution and is my go-to guy for any car related question.

This may seem like a minor detail. Just put the guy behind the wheel, right? Who cares what he drives?

Readers care. They care because they drive. Some might care because they’re car aficionados. They won’t be fooled by a mechanic driving an SUV. Wouldn’t make sense. But I wanted more than the obvious answer. I wanted the only answer. Remember My Cousin Vinnie? The climax of that movie depended solely on the make/model/year of a vehicle- and the woman who was the expert in that area.

That’s research.

It involves interviews, travel, and hands-on experience. You may be hesitant to “bother” people, or maybe you’re just shy. Get over it. There’s nothing people love more than talking about themselves and if they think there’s a slim chance their name might be mentioned in a book, they’ll be singing like a cell phone.

Need to learn about the restaurant industry? Take a job as a waitress. Police procedure? Ask an officer for a ride-along. Medical question? Visit a hospital for a list of doctors in that field. As long as you are polite and are willing to work around their schedule, most people are happy to lend a few minutes of their time. Always be gracious, really listen to the person, don’t interrupt, jot down questions as they come, and always send a note of thanks.

Then, of course, there is the internet. What did we ever do without it? I’ve researched arson accelerants, the effects of poisons, drug interactions, and song lyrics online. Even if I think I know something, like the spelling of a certain god’s name or the pagan rites practiced on Samhain, I force myself to double-check.

Because even in the paranormal world, authenticity matters.

Now go read something.


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