|. . . and then everyone dies!|
Write what you know.
That’s the old saw young, aspiring writers are given when they’re first starting out. But writing about washing dishes, or folding laundry, or driving a car only gets you so far. Eventually, you want your character to put down the TV remote, strap on a pair of SIG .45s and go toe-to-toe with a Big Bad Badass straight from the deepest pits of Hell.
Or maybe that’s just me.
The problem is, of course, that very few of us have real world experience with hand guns in combat situations, tactical training scenarios, or well, even demons—unless you met my last girlfriend.
Research can smooth over some of those rough edges in your writing knowledge, but even that will only get you so far. This is where an expert comes into play.
|You can trust me. I'm an Expert!|
I love experts. Sword experts. Knife experts. Experts who climb on rocks! Tell them you’re a writer working on a particular scene, and they get all warm and squishy inside, ready to share not just the knowledge you need, but paragraphs of information on how Hollywood and TV get it wrong, how writers fail 99.44% of the time, and how in the really-real world it would never happen that way.
Don’t get mad at an expert. They’re like a cocker spaniel puppy—so happy and eager to help, but complete devoid of the tools to show it. Here are six tips for working with an expert to really polish that scene or shine up that bit of dialogue to give a realistic feel to your writing.
Talk in Person
The interwebs and the Facebooks and the Tweeters are all great tools for communication . . . until they’re not. Talking on the phone or better yet face-to-face is still the best way to get and receive information. First, your expert will be flattered, especially if you lubricate the situation with a drink or three, or a nice steak dinner. It’s a few bucks out of your pocket that goes some distance to showing how much you respect your expert’s time and information. Also, the expert is less likely to start a whole rant if they can see “that look” on your face when the conversation starts to go off the rails.
There’s nothing worse than giving a bare bones description of scene, your particular writing problem and then hoping your expert understands. There’s a reason your character is where she is, why she’s doing what she’s doing, and why the scene needs to play out the way it’s playing out. That’s not what the expert is there for. You’ll figuratively shoot yourself in the foot if you allow your expert to make assumptions which you’ll later need to correct. It’s much, much better to pre-load your question with a little too much information, than leave your soon-to-be-former-friend guessing at aspects of plot and scene which will lead to frustration for both of you.
The Whole System is Out of Order
Don’t—I repeat DO NOT—argue with your expert. Just say no. It’s hot to not! Arguing is
whack! This should go without saying, and yet sweet
and innocent authors will make the mistake of thinking that the world is one
way, when actually it’s another. Physics
is physics, and science if science. You
can’t beat it no matter how good your rationale or how many times you try. The MythBusters have made an entire career
out of showing us that the rules are the rules, and what seems like “common
sense” is often not. If your story finds
itself at odds with an expert’s advice, there’s no point in getting in a heated
argument with them. First, it’s
disrespectful of the expert who has given you their time and effort. But second, and most importantly, you’ll lose
that expert outright, and, if it’s a forum discussion, you might turn off
others from helping you in the future.
You’re not just a writer. You’re
THE writer. If the real world doesn’t
suit you, you change it. Nod, smile and
thank your expert for their opinion—then ignore it. But it ignore it privately, within the
confines of your writing.
|Yelling always makes an argument more compelling.|
Don’t I Know You From Roanoke Island?
About a year ago, Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk launched a crowdfunding campaign for their web series Con Man. Watch one of these episodes and at the end you’ll see a stream of names, in alphabetical order, of the hundreds of folk who contributed to make the series happen. Slow it down in the “McCandless” section and you’ll even see my name. It’s that simple. So simple, a cave man could do it. Recognition is so easy. Anyone who contributes
to your writing, even
in a small way, should get a quick mention.
Author acknowledgements are almost universally overlooked by
readers—unless their name appears. I
actually read the acknowledgements, which are generally rife with inside jokes,
and undecipherable personal asides. The
author has taken the time to give a shout out to show their gratitude and
respect for those who provided assistance, and I like to honor that. That’s just me though. There’s no need to put yourself through the
torture. The thing to remember is to
start an “Acknowledgements” file alongside your manuscript, and add to it when
someone provides content.
|We're happy because of happiness.|
Buy Their Love
For those experts who went the extra mile, be sure you do as well. A signed copy of the book when it releases with a personal note is simple and classy. If you’re not aiming for class though, feel free to include some alcohol in the package (especially if you’re sending it to me). Beta team members should include, or at least be considered, experts. They went above and beyond, so you should as well.
If you put it altogether, with your expert inputs woven into your story, those spiffy, shiny
details may get you a
compliment like the one I received yesterday:
|All for me!/|
I enjoy the way McCandless . . . actually knows how guns work and how they should be used, and has characters who understand small group tactics. There's reason police use SWAT teams of 4 to 6 people to clear a house. We got a good lesson one tactical weekend when 36 of us, including several SWAT team members, used simulation and tried to clear a house with one shooter in it with one of us going in at a time. End of the day, shooter 36, the rest of us zero. Del was right to be nervous about trying to clear a place with a team of 3.
If a guy who knows what he’s talking about says that you do to, then you win!