The “no author writes in a vacuum” has been done to death. At least by me. I’m sure you’ve heard me talk no end about my B-Team (and they’re awesome). Today’s topic is subject matter experts (SMEs). In the corporate world, these are people in the company who know everything about a very specific subject, but aren’t necessarily the best writers in the world. They don’t have to be, their job is something other than writing.
Writing is my job.
But the reverse of this is also true. I’m not an expert on anything really except writing. I research, and sometimes deeply, to grasp historical events, battles, swordplay, gunplay, etc. But The only thing I can truly claim deep knowledge and experience is writing. When I run into a situation, say the need for my heroes to divert a plane en route and arrive at a destination ahead of schedule to get the drop on the Big Bad Guys . . .
|Gun kata, anyone?|
Yeah, I have no idea how, in the really-real world, that would take place. I have two choices:
1 – I make it up based on my limited understanding of aviation safety rules and regulations (i.e. no understanding at all) and hope no one calls me on it.
2 – I find someone with a lot of patience who can explain it to me using very small words.
It seems like #2 would always be the way to go, but alas, it’s fraught with a minefield of issues. Foremost among them is when an SME insists “that could never happen.” Often, when presented with a particular scenario, like say the introduction of a compound bow in Medieval Europe, the SME will go into great length about how such a weapon could never be practically invented. Historically speaking, the SME is correct. The compound bow wasn’t developed five-hundred years earlier.
But I’m not a history writer. I’m a fiction writer. Making an SME understand that can be a trial in itself, taking more time than it’s worth to get to the question actually answered.
|100% Historically Accurate|
Recently, perhaps due to becoming published myself, this has been less of a problem. A Japanese history expert reviewed my historical fiction novel about Tomoe Gozen. I was pleased she found very little wrong with it, accepted some of my conceits as just that, and what she did point out was easily corrected. It was really great to know that my research into the time period had paid off, and my mistakes were understandable.
While working on my latest Del book, I needed an SME for the aforementioned aviation question. My SME didn’t just help me understand the rules regarding air travel on a private/charter plane. He also provided several rational scenarios so my heroes could get around said rules, and reasonably accomplish the goals I needed.
I can never thank everyone who has helped, will help, or continues to help me with my writing. It’s true, I do the author-thing. But they make it possible.