Thursday, February 4, 2010

Write what you know. Research what you don't.

I had the perfect blog topic as I was falling off to sleep last night. It was brilliant, witty and even funny. This morning it was gone. Not even wispy shadows of it remain. Don't you hate when that happens?

It also annoys me when I'm loving a story, reading along, drinking it all in and then, SLAP. A bit of faulty information. Blech!   Cliche doesn't mean correct. And artistic license has its limits, unless you've prepared your readers for the change.

If you were reading a story which included a location, hobby or past time you know well, wouldn't ignorance or improper artistic license annoy you?

My favorite example is in the film, 'The Fabulous Baker Boys.' Jeff Bridges character enters Pike Street market and comes out the front of 'Ivar's on the Pier'.  Okay, this restaurant is situated with the back overlooking Puget Sound. The entrance is south, west and down the hill from the market.  It was a major annoyance to the residence of the Seattle area. A piece of masterful editing to the rest of the population.

Why do I bring this up?  Readers are more sophisticated. They have fewer dollars to spend and more authors to chose from. Under estimating your readers is a costly mistake. If they buy one of your titles and are disappointed, they won't be telling their friends to pick up a copy, nor will they be looking for new titles. Or worse? They may not buy your book at all.

The internet is at our fingertips. Even if you've never clapped eyes on a live horse, there is a plethora of websites dedicated to educating people about horses.  Never been to Seattle? Go to Google maps and view the city from street level. This resource is a major advantage, which shouldn't be ignored.

Every writer should find other writers to interact with, on a regular basis. The improvement in my writing was off the charts when I met up with the Writing Wombats, my most beloved writers group.

A writer's group also affords first hand experiences which can enrich your stories and make them more believable.

Good is in construction. Great is in the details. I don't know about you, but when I pick up a book filled with rich, pertinent details in well crafted sentences it's a thrill. Making a believable neighborhood or area is good use of artistic license. It says to the reader, this author cares enough to get it right.

I've had the privilege to be part of a submissions screening process. If the piece is well written, I'm excited. If there is no clear start, but I can find it, we're still okay. A senseless oversight in research will give me pause, two, I'm done.

Sending out queries is a laborious, nerve fraying, process. All of us do it. All of us hate it.

Give the editor reason to keep reading. Write well. Write what you know, and if you don't, do the research to make it what you know.  Nothing excites me more than finding a submission I can get behind and say, "Hey, look at this little beauty!"

What pulls you from a story? What makes you want more? And as authors how do we do a better job?


  1. As an author, I adore doing research. Even better, I belong to at least 3 or 4 author groups, and pretty much anything I want to know about any topic or any area of the world can be answered by putting out a call for help on one of those chat loops. I can handle bending the truth (I'm doing that in one of my own WIPs), so long as the author acknowledges to the reader that yes, you DID know better, and you KNOW that's not what it's really like, but that you did it for a darned good reason.

  2. Historical inaccuracies.

    I have problems with suspending belief or poetic license when authors or movies play around with history. Or ignore it.

    Moving a battle a couple days forward or backwards, to work with the story line fine, that's reasonable if the rest of the facts are correct and usually author with tell you in the forword they have taken certain license with history. That's good because it tells me at least they KNOW the history.

    I don't have a problem of taking a historical figure and giving them dialog or inner thoughts. I do have a problem when you create thoughts and words that don't fit with the figure in question, especially when there is research that shows he/she is a certain way. An author can't write a historical figure and make them 180 degrees different that what history shows them to be.

    Nice article, Sherilyn.

  3. Good morning ladies. Thanks for dropping by. Writer's groups are the best aren't the Kat?

    Historical mistakes make me crazy too, Sia.

    Research seems so daunting when I first started writing, and now it's one of my favorite parts of the process.