Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Space. . .The Final Frontier with Guest Elizabeth Goddard
And the rest of the familiar words from Star Trek:
“These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”
Let me translate that into the language of writers. Space is a blank page: Your opportunity to boldly go where you’ve never gone before and write what you don’t know with confidence!
When I visited Seekerville this summer, I still lived in Texas. I think I mentioned moving to Louisiana. Well, now I’m here. There’s a swamp right behind my house and I’m getting pressured to try alligator. Not alligator hunting, but alligator on a stick! Sort of like Teriyaki chicken, I think. I’ll leave the hunting to someone else.
You gotta love these Louisiana folks. I never realized how different the culture could be just three hours away from my home in Texas. But different, it is.
Just three hours away from East Texas, the food is different, and the people are Deep South warm and friendly. I thought I lived in the south in Texas, but I learned that to these purist Deep South folk, Texas is considered part of the West.
There’s a point to all this. One of the first story ideas I developed into a novel was set on a sugar plantation near a Louisiana bayou. Could I really be authentic with my story if I’ve never lived in Louisiana?
My post back in June, The Well-Trained Author: Supercharge Your Brain to Generate Great Ideas gave you a few tips on how to keep your idea generator stoked. If any of those techniques helped, and you came up with an idea list that was several pages long, you might have started to wonder about whether or not you are qualified to write those stories.
Something might be a great idea, but you don’t have a clue about the topic. After all, haven’t you heard repeatedly that you should write what you know?
Write what you know.
Write what you know.
Writing gurus and publishing authorities will give you this advice. But I beg to differ.
Think about some of the most prolific best-selling authors you know. The ones you see on display at the grocery store check-out line. One author I can think of is so prolific, she writes under two names. She can’t possibly have experienced everything she writes about, can she?
No how. No way.
Still, the publishing authorities are correct to a degree. For instance, I wouldn’t want to write a legal thriller or a medical thriller without some background. But there’s another side to that. I’ve read a few books written by people who are “experts” or have experience in a particular field and that doesn’t necessarily mean they know how to write a great novel. I’ve been disappointed by novelists with experience in their field plenty of times.
One of the reasons I enjoy writing to begin with is that I can live vicariously through my characters—characters that have awesome adventures that I would never be able to experience in real life.
As writers, the most important thing we can do is give the reader the experience of being there, and especially if that reader is someone who lives in the setting, or who has already experienced what you’re writing about. There’s nothing better than hearing that you’ve portrayed something accurately.
If you can visit the setting in person and spend time there as part of your research, then all the better. But let me add that you can grow up in a town and still hear complaints that you got the town wrong. Think about it. Five different witnesses to an accident will remember it differently. We’re all different people, so our experiences and memories and, most importantly, perspectives are different.
I have an author friend who created a fictional town and heard from a reader who complained that she’d grown up in that town and the author got everything wrong.
Still, I’m not advocating sloppy research. I simply want to encourage you that you CAN write about something you don’t know.
You do enough research that you can almost call yourself an expert when you’re done. You know your stuff by the time you turn that manuscript in. Or at least you have long, intelligent conversations with experts on the topic. They read the manuscript or the scene to approve things, or add their input, all with an understanding of your particular audience.
Since I write romantic suspense which primarily targets women, I don’t need to put too much technical lingo into the story.
In my latest release, TREACHEROUS SKIES, I didn’t have a clue about flying a Learjet when I came up with my initial premise: A test pilot turned Learjet recovery man retrieves a jet only to find the kidnapped daughter of a Colombian drug lord concealed inside.
I didn’t know if my pilots could do what I needed them to do in the story. But I found a couple of experienced pilots who agreed to work with me. By work with me, I mean they cooperated in the following ways:
1) Answered questions
2) Helped me make what I wanted or needed to happen work within the context of the story. Made sure things could actually work or,
3) Offered other scenarios where I could accomplish my goals.
4) Gave details about what happens and specifics on how things happen.
5) Read through scenes to make sure they are right. Offer suggestions and corrections.
Often, before I even posed the question to my experts, I spent hours researching on my own.
I’m sure if you’ve been bold enough to go where you’ve never been before, you’ve probably discovered some of the following tips on your own. (Honestly, I don’t know how people wrote before the internet.)
An awesome research technique is to watch YouTube videos. I used YouTube while writing Freezing Point, watching videos on how to create ice sculptures. Many readers commented on how well I portrayed ice sculpting in that story. I also had my experts available to talk to. I have a twenty-year FBI veteran available to answer questions regarding my undercover agent.
I read blogs written by those who live in a particulate setting or work at a type of job that I’m writing about. It’s the next best thing to communicating with an expert, and can also be used as supplemental research material.
I started this post referencing the television series, Star Trek. Think about all the credits at the end of television shows and movies. Credit is given to the experts who helped make things authentic: makeup, hair, costumes, props, historians or other individuals with the required knowledge.
So assemble your crew and fearlessly explore strange and new worlds!
After years of peace and quiet, Maya Carpenter thinks she's safe—that her drug-lord father's world will never catch up with her. Then she's abducted and secretly stashed on a plane. And once she and the test pilot who finds her land in the Keys, the real threat begins....
Daredevil pilot Connor Jacobson is no one's hero. And this time, he's in way over his head. Yet he can't leave Maya to face danger alone. Besides, he has a few tricks up his sleeve that might keep them safe...as long as he's willing to put everything at risk, including his heart.
Elizabeth Goddard is the award-winning author of more than a dozen novels, including the romantic mystery, The Camera Never Lies—a 2011 Carol Award winner. She lives in Central Louisiana with her husband and children.
Today Elizabeth is generously giving away two copies of Treacherous Skies to two commenters. Winners announced in the Weekend Edition.