Wednesday, September 1, 2010

It’s in the Details

While my first book, “A Question of Trust,” was in the first stages on my computer, my brother-in-law, Larry, read a chapter. In the chapter my protagonist Stacey Willis is at a cattle auction in Burley, Idaho. Larry said, “Carole your story is really good, but I you need to go to an auction.” I thought I had been to one, but the one I went to was not a cattle auction. He volunteered to go with me, so we met at the auction. It was an eye-opening experience. Seeing, hearing, and smelling the sights and sounds of authentic cowboys and ranchers in action completely changed the chapter. The re-write was so much better. Stacey accidentally bought a pig. It was something I could see her doing and the chapter continues to be one of my favorite that I’ve written.
As writers we are told to write what we know. But for most of us what we know really limits our stories, so learning from others and doing research is a great way to expand the possibilities. Still, don’t rely on a Google search or a wikipedia article. There’s nothing like experience or at least talking with experts. Experts are all around us. If your character flips burgers, talk to someone who does that—they are the expert. In that same book, Stacey is professional photographer, so I had photographer friend read the manuscript. “Professionals don’t snap pictures—they shoot.” I had messed that word up a few times. It was a small and easy change, but one that would have shown me as someone who didn’t know what she was talking about, had I not had a photographer read the story first.
My newest book, Sun Tunnels and Secrets,just like my other two, is set in Grouse Creek, Utah. For me to make a story come to life, it’s important to get the setting real. I lived in Grouse Creek for six years, my husband is from there, but even with that, I’ve gotten some of the directions wrong. I failed to have my husband read it before publishing and I’m directionally challenged. It won’t matter to 99% of my readers, so I’ll have to apologize to the few who will notice the mistakes. Recently I had a conversation with a man who recently retired from police work. He was in charge of the entire Cache County Jail. I asked him, if I could ask him some questions for a book I was writing. He said, “please do and tell your friends to talk to me because I hate reading books when authors ignore proper procedure.” After talking to him for ten minutes, I realized I had many details wrong in my current writing project. It takes time to get the details right, but it will make the difference in writing that sings or falls flat.