Writing Things Right
My second cataract surgery was yesterday, and if everything went as smoothly as the first one did, I should be around to respond to comments.
The problem arises when you’re clueless that you don’t know something and merrily write along, enjoying the story.
Hint: Readers don’t like inaccuracies.
In Finding Sarah, I needed a way to keep her from doing the obvious—taking the bad guy’s car keys and driving away after she bonked him on the head. I gave the car a manual transmission, and parked it headed against a tree. Pretty clever, right? A wise critique partner told me that the Highlander I’d chosen for the vehicle (inside nod to my writing beginnings) didn’t come with a manual transmission. I had no idea you couldn’t get every car in whatever configuration you wanted.
Robert Crais made the unforgiveable “thumbed the safety off the Glock” error in a book, and I asked him if readers gave him flak about it. His response? “Every. Damn. Day.”
John Sandford had the same issue once when he’d been using the term “pistol” and decided he wanted to get specific, so he changed it to a Glock, not realizing he’d already had a character releasing the safety. His response? “It was an after-market addition.”
I know darn well I’m clueless about weaponry, so I do my homework before arming my characters.
What about other areas? The current manuscript, Deadly Adversaries, seemed to be throwing roadblocks every time I wrote a scene. Wanting to make sure what I’d written was at least plausible, I asked my specialist sources.
***Note. It’s important to rely on reliable sources if you want to get things right. As Dr. Doug Lyle said in a webinar: Google something you know a lot about, and see how many different explanations you get. The internet can be helpful, but don’t take it as gospel.
Sometimes solutions are easy. If I have a fight scene, I give my martial arts daughter the basics, letting her know who’s fighting, who’s supposed to win, if anyone’s injured, etc. She comes back with the basic choreography and I put it into prose.
Sometimes solutions are not quite so easy. I had a great scenario for immobilizing my victims. I ran it by my medical consultant, and he said, Nothing is impossible but this is as close as it gets. The drug would have to absorb through the skin in very small doses and very quickly. Cyanide and sodium azide can do that but they are both deadly—very quickly. I’d find another way to incapacitate your character.
Back to the drawing board.
In my Blackthorne, Inc. series, which center around a totally made up high-end security and covert ops company, I can give my characters technology, equipment, and just about anything else they need. In and out like the wind is their motto. The scope of plausibility is wide.
Not so with my Mapleton books. They’re contemporary police procedurals at heart, and I want them to be as accurate as possible. To this end, I ran a couple of scenes by my cop consultant. He told me my headlight fragments probably weren’t going to help the cops identify the vehicle involved. Okay, I could work around that.
The next question was about my cops questioning someone in jail. Eye opener here. After some what if this’s and what about that’’? the bottom line: usually what you get at the time of the arrest is the last bite at the apple. So, the information I needed my cops to discover had to come from someone else instead of going to the jail to interview him after he was arrested.
Back to the drawing board again.
The biggest—and most troublesome—stumbling block in this book was that the story played out in numerous jurisdictions. I couldn’t have my cops go to their suspects, or even witnesses, without a local LEO along, or at least notified.
Once they knock on the character’s door, they’re just civilians. Outside of their jurisdiction, they’re not cops. What I’d written was just plain wrong and my decent, play by the rules Mapleton cops would never have done it. If they had, they could have been charged with false imprisonment.
So much for my exciting climactic scene! It would be nothing but paperwork and judges and extraditions. Nothing edge-of-the-seat in those scenarios.
As my cop friend put it, Funny how most people don’t get how complicated the laws make everything.
I went back to the drawing board a lot on these scenes.
By the time we’d had dozens of back-and-forths, and I’d reached a plausible, “that could work” resolution, he said:
I’m laughing. You try to do it right. See how boring Hollywood would have been it they had to keep within that pesky Constitution. It stood in my way many times.
What about you, TKZers? How do you make sure you get things right? Have you ever not realized you thought you knew something and then found out you didn’t? Do you write first, fix later, or research first? Or ignore the issue altogether–it’s fiction, after all.
Nothing Ever Happens in Mapleton … Until it Does
Gordon Hepler, Mapleton, Colorado’s Police Chief, is called away from a quiet Sunday with his wife to an emergency situation at the home he’s planning to sell. A man has chained himself to the front porch, threatening to set off an explosive.
Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.”