Writing Tip

download-1013983_1280Be an Expert on Your Own Back Yard

Another area where you can be your own expert is where you live.  It can be impossible to travel to far-flung locations to do research on a setting for story.  You might as well take the cheap route, research your own community, and see if that research spark any ideas.

If you like history, research that aspect of your community.  Local libraries are great place to do local research.  They often have a local history room with sources you can not find anywhere else.  Many communities have their own historical societies.  Check out their resources.  Both libraries and historical societies may offer free programs on local history.  I have learned a lot about my town from attending programs at my library.  Reading through old local newspapers, which a library should have, can also stir interest.

But if history doesn’t spark any ideas, get to know your community as it is now.  Just driving around with your powers of observation turned to full strength will help you discover unique aspects.  Where I live, out in the country, there are a lot of quarries, some abandoned.  I got to visit an abandoned one.  Because of the digging, the landscape in the quarry is very different from the surrounding one.  It’s very stark, even bleak.  It would be a good setting in a mystery or a thriller.  Or, if you are writing about a character who is an outsider in his or her community, the quarry can serve as a symbol of the character’s differences.

My county has a split personality.  It used to be rural with a college town as the county seat.  The county seat still has the college, but the southern part is developing into enormous suburbs.  The north is still rural with farms and tiny towns.  A lot of compelling storytelling can come from creating tension between the two disparate communties.

Even if you live in a big city, like New York or Los Angeles of Chicago, which are often the settings for stories, you can find smaller qualities about it that aren’t well-known.  And since you are unique, you can take even well-known parts of city and write about it with your own personal touch.

For another use of historical research, read this article by my friend Sandra Merville Hart.



Writing Tip

download-1013981_1280Be Your Own Expert

Another way to bring authenticity to your writing is writing about what interests you and educating yourself into becoming an expert.

As I said in an earlier post, I worked in public libraries for years.  Using one as a setting  would be easy for me.  I am also interested in the Golden Age of Hollywood, the 1930’s and 40’s.  If I wanted to set a book in this period, I would happily do more research because it is a subject I am already interested in.

If you choose a subject you aren’t interested in, it will be difficult to write about it with any enthusiasm.  I once created a character, a teenage boy who earned money working on cars.  It was a dumb choice.  I knew nothing about cars (still don’t) and had no interest in them (still don’t as long as they run when I want them to).  It just didn’t work.

I love horses.  So creating a family that runs a business with horses came naturally.  I also made some characters of that family farriers.  Now I know nothing about the blacksmiths who shoe horses.  But I am interested in that skill, so when my library had a program featuring a blacksmith, I was eager to ask him questions.

If you are writing nonfiction, writing about your interest should be easy and your desire to learn more a given.  If you blog about the adventures of your pet, read up on the animal’s history as a pet, how the animal acts in the wild, unusual facts about it, anything to add to your knowledge

Become your own expert and enliven your writing.

Writing Tip

interview-1674583_1280Interviewing Experts

After my post on consulting experts if you can’t get first-hand experience, I thought it might be helpful to provide guidelines on how to conduct a face-to-face interview for anyone, but especially teens, who have never done one before.  If the expert is already a friend, you might not have to be so formal.

1. Research — Do research on your topic to figure out if you need to do an interview, and if so,  with whom.  If the answer to your questions can be found in reliable written sources, use those.  If your questions are more technical and complicated, seek an expert.  I read about the basics rules for police searches and surveillances, but I asked a retired police chief more complicated questions, like how police officers get a judge to issue a search warrant.

2. Write down all your questions.

3. Take notes during the interview.

4. Ask follow up questions — Ask questions to clarify points or get more detailed information.

5. Review your notes — As soon as you can, review your notes.  The interview will still be fresh in your mind, and you can add information you did not have time to put down during the interview.

Here are some additional guidelines, which are true of any kind of interview.interview-1018333_1280

1. Arrive 5-10 minutes early for your appointment.

2. Dress professionally — You don’t have to be formal, but dress like you consider the interview a business appointment.

3. Watch the time — Don’t run over your allotted time.  If you don’t have all your questions answered by the end, ask for a short extension or permission to call back with follow-up questions.

4. Send a thank-you note – A hand-written is especially meaningful.

Writing Tip

white-male-1871367_1280Finding More of the Real

If you can’t get first-hand experience with something, consult an expert on the subject in person  I find such an interview much more informative than just reading a book on a topic.

Because I got to know an alpaca farmer, I learned what a remarkable anaimals alpacas are.  Listening to people talk about their jobs piques my interest in a way that reading about the same jobs may not.

As an introvert, though, I find approaching strangers difficult, and that is made even more so when I want to consult them about something I wish to write about.  I am an  unpublished author.  Why would they want to talk to me?

I faced this dilemma when I realized I needed to talk to someone about police procedures for my book because I was basing my plot points on what I had seen on TV.  A retired police chief was a member of my church.  It seemed natural to ask him, but I did it with a hammering heart and dry mouth.

He couldn’t have been nicer.  He answered my questions for well over an hour.  I wanted to know how a police officer would break up a bar fight involving a large number of people.  I also asked about search warrants and surveillance.  Not only did I gain a ton of useful information for my book, making it much more authentic, but I also gained a huge appreciation for how complicated police work is.

Try to find experts when you need them.  Explain exactly what you need to know from them.  Most people enjoy sharing their expertise.  And if you find an expert who is unwilling, approach another one.  The knowledge you gain is worth the risk.  And you may make a friend in the process.


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