Today, I’m letting Lisa Hall-Wilson guest post again for me, because she has a really wonderful lesson to share. Few things can pull a reader out of a story like us—the writer—bungling the details. I know I once tossed a book in a drawer because the heroine put “the safety on” a revolver.
It annoyed me.
It was a small but important detail the author could have gotten right had she done a little homework and asked the right people some simple questions. And, since the rest of her story involved action and guns and my husband is on a military shooting team, I assumed the rest of the story would probably just have me yelling, “WTH? NO!”
Details can make or break a story, but what can we do to make sure we are getting our facts straight? Lisa is here to help.
Take it away, Lisa!
Getting Details Wrong Annoys Readers!
One of the most overlooked items in a writer’s toolbox is conducting interviews. Doesn’t matter whether you’re writing fiction, non-fiction, articles, novels or blogging, being able to ask for and run a successful interview is an essential skill.
We don’t have to be that pushy reporter shoving a hand-held recorder in people’s faces. Being polite and professional will go a long way. I wrote a post over at the BookShelf Muse on how to ask for an interview so make sure you check that out.
Sure, sure – I get how interviews are important for journalists. But I write fiction.
OK – do you have a professional in your novel, the protagonist say, who has a job you’ve never done? One novelist wrote a series of novels about a group of adopted siblings: one was a hostage negotiator, another a fireman, another a cop, another a pediatrician, another a crime scene investigator. Do you really think this author had worked all those jobs? How did she know so much about each one?
She interviewed people!
We can’t learn everything from Google or a book. We can’t. We need anecdotes, first-person been there stories, someone to debunk the Hollywood stereotypes. Nothing pulls you in like the tiny details unique to that profession or situation, and nothing is more annoying than when an author gets those details wrong.
We want to get it right, and that means talking to people who have actually done that job!
You don’t get it. I’m a writer. I spend half the day working up the courage to tweet or post a status on Facebook. I can’t interview anyone.
That attitude isn’t going to cut it. Chin up – pen out. This is part of the job. Successful novelists interview people when researching a novel. Whether they’re researching a profession, or need advice on a particular scene, readers trust you (the author) to get the details right.
If you’re fortunate, you’ll have friends, friends of friends, family, or acquaintances you can reach out to. Certainly, even as a journalist, my job is a lot easier when I can pick from the low-hanging fruit as it were. Those I already know or have access to.
Interviewing is a skill we can learn. The first couple of times may be intimidating, but being prepared goes a long way. Running a good interview doesn’t require talent as much as it requires practice, preparation, and dose of courage.
As a freelance journalist, I’ve interviewed best-selling authors, JUNO-winning musicians, comedians, drug addicts, a celebrity fashion designer, former prostitutes, police officers, firefighters, pastors, and people with a great story to tell. The one thing all these sources had in common was a desire to make sure I got the details right.
“Fiction is the truth inside the lie.” Stephen King
I have a romantic suspense novel collecting dust on a shelf. In one scene I needed to set a fire in an old farmhouse to trap my two protagonists in the upper storey, but I needed the arsonist to get away clean and there couldn’t be any proof it was arson. So, what did I do?
I interviewed a firefighter.
Now, the key to these interviews is to present the source (the interviewee) with the planned scenario – like the one above. This way you get the benefit of their experience. You put too many filters on the situation and they’ll just tell you what you want to hear instead of what will make the scene pop with realism. He gave me an incredibly creative answer I couldn’t have come up with in a million years – whereas – he’d seen it done.
He also let me feel his hands. Hey – don’t laugh. I was working on a romance novel where the main protagonist was a firefighter. In a romance novel the feel of a man’s hands is an important detail. I imagined a fireman’s hands would be rough from hauling hoses and swinging axes, etc. But nope – they were very smooth, like a mechanic’s hand. The details make such a huge difference!
And… I’ve never been back to that fire hall. LOL
Have you interviewed someone for your novel, or your blog? What’s the most intimidating part of asking for an interview? Trying to figure out who to ask, or how to ask, I’ll hang around all day to answer questions.
I hope this post was super helpful for you. I know that many experts are eager to help writers get the facts straight. I’ve been working with a P.I. who was formerly undercover for the ATF for the details on my novel. It can surprise you how many professionals are willing to assist if you just ask.
Need more help? Lisa is offering some upcoming classes and she is an AMAZING instructor, so I hope you take advantage of these courses you can take from the comfort of HOME.
Whether you’re writing fiction, non-fiction, articles, or blogging, take your writing to the next level by interviewing experts, professionals, or people who have already been there and done that. Learn from a journalist on how to get the interview, craft questions, get a source talking, how to ask the hard questions without offending, and best practices. This online course is June 20th at 7:30PM-9PM EST. $30
A course requested by my writer friends. In two 90minute live webinars learn what your Facebook page can and can’t do for you, and best practices to grow your platform the WANA way to endure almost any change Zuck dreams up. We’ll cover the 12 areas every page owner should focus on, best practices for driving traffic to your website and for better edge rank, and receive a list of resources to help you when you’re on your own. This class is June 15th and 22nd – $60. Get 20% off this class with the code “Lisa20”
Recently I ran across a neat post over at Forbes 14 Things Successful People Do on Weekends. It was a real eye-opener for some critical areas where I’m slacking. Namely, I’m not slacking enough.
See, y’all can at least rest assured that, as I’m lecturing you, I have three fingers pointed back at myself. Today’s topic dovetails nicely with last week’s post Entropy is REAL & Author Careers Need Feeding Daily.
ANOTHER Time-Saving Device?
Is it just me or, do you feel like you’re drinking from a fire hose? It seems like the more apps and gadgets and widgets they invent, the more crap we’re expected to keep up with. I rarely feel my time is saved at all. Yet, what would I do without the alarm on my iPhone to remind me not to leave my child at nursery school?
Calling CPS on a negligent mother? There’s an app for that.
Repairing My Damaged Relationship with Rest
I grew up in a home that didn’t know how to rest. If you sat still too long, Mom would have you lemon-oiling something or pulling weeds. Weekends were for yard work and painting the kitchen some new color, because, well the current color was at least three months old.
Yes, my mother is Norwegian and Norway is the motherland of OCD.
Even now, I find it hard not to be doing something productive all the time. If I happen to be on the phone, I fold laundry and clean while I talk. I’m always moving, tidying, scrubbing, and sorting….unless I’m writing .
Before DFWWWCon, I went to get a pedicure and forgot to bring any work with me. I thought I was going to have to be medicated because I wasn’t doing anything productive!
Busy, busy, busy. B.S.
And, have you ever tried breaking free from time-saving? We’ve done paperless billing and auto-debit for the past few years, but then, because Hubby and I are now both full-time entrepreneurs, we wanted bills sent on PAPER.
White stuff. Remember that? So the electric company apparently knows to send me a boatload of meaningless paper junk mail, but did they send the BILL?
Woke up this morning to no power. Had to pay a $40 reconnection fee. A $15 I’m Sorry I’m Human Fee and a $150 I Swear I Will Never Do This Again Fee just to get power.
Yes, it’s why the blog is late.
When did I enter the Moronosphere? The effort it took to get a paper bill was just mind-boggling. They wasted at least an hour of my time to save me time? I’m lost.
Don’t the French drink wine with breakfast?
Yes, I Have a Point
These days there is a lot to do. For writers, we DO have a lot on our plate. This post isn’t to give any of us a pass to get out of working hard, but sometimes I believe we can get too sucked in. We should seek balance.
Work hard, play hard.
The World WILL NOT End
In an age of instant this and that, everyone (including me) wants stuff yesterday. Yet, here’s the thing. What we WANT and what we GET in life are two different things. I now turn off my phone and I don’t check e-mail over the weekends (unless WANA is running a class). I’m also banned from doing ANYTHING on Sunday. No making the bed or cooking. No picking up toys. I veg. I recharge…and my left eye twitches.
But I’ll get better with practice. Have no Make-You-Happy-Meals to serve today .
Suck It Up, Buttercup
All people need rest. Creative people especially need rest. Rest is work. Seriously!
According to that Forbes article, almost all 14 activities successful people did on weekends involved rest. That really hit home for me and showed me where I had to sit still longer if I wanted to climb up higher.
Yet, I admit it. I feel guilty for having fun. I know I have a problem, but the first step to solving a problem is admitting we have one, right? Rest is important. It allows us to recharge the creative batteries.
Resting gives time for our subconscious to chew on problems and come up with brilliant solutions. I know all these things consciously, but it’s going to take time to give myself permission to chillax, especially in a culture that worships workaholics. Games, fun, naps, vacations are just as important as the WORK.
*writes that on sticky notes to paper the house*
Can I just be French?
What about you? Do you feel guilty for resting? Do you not know how to have fun? Do you feel guilty when you’re having fun? Do you have a hard time writing fiction because it’s fun and doesn’t feel like “work,” so you feel bad because you could be cleaning something? Have you overcome your workaholic tendencies? How did you do it? Tips? Tactics? I’m all ears…*sets down Swiffer*.
I love hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of June, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.
At the end of June I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!
Will announce May winner later in the week. Had no power :p. I’ll get there. Sigh.
Many people run across the #MyWANA on Twitter or WANA on Facebook and ask, “What is WANA?” Boy, that is a BIG question to answer. It all began with a simple book to help writers understand social media. I recall talking about potential titles with my editor Jen Talty (at WDW Publishing, now Cool Gus Publishing).
WANA the Book
I’d been wracking my brain trying to think of a title that encapsulated the message I wanted others to hear, what I wanted them to feel. Then Jen asked an important question that changed everything, “Kristen, what do you want others to feel when they read your book?”
I replied, “I want them to know they are not alone.”
So much about writing is solitary, and many of us experience alienation and even outright animosity from those closest. I recall my early writing journey being very, very lonely and it was easy to become overwhelmed and depressed and consider giving up.
When I realized social media would be a game-changer, I wondered, “How can one writer do ALL that is necessary?” Then I realized we couldn’t. We needed a family, a community of support.
WANA the Community
I wish I’d been smart enough to see what WANA would eventually become, but I wasn’t responsible for taking WANA to the next level. Writers started referring to themselves as WANAs. They met in person in their cities. They sought out conferences where they could meet and spend time with these digital friends they’d come to love.
I know that most of the friends I love would never have been in my life had it not been for WANA. Why? Because writers need more than writing tips and marketing, and promotion. They need emotional support. They need help when times were hard, or when they have to pull away from social media for revisions.
Soon, WANAs started trading help. When one had a deadline and couldn’t blog, other WANAs stepped in and offered guest posts to keep the writer’s blog living and thriving.
WANA the Family
Then we had a WANA, author Myndi Schafer who was VERY pregnant when she took one of my blogging classes. Her due date was closing and guess what? The WANAs were there. They took over her blog, tweeted for her, kept up with her, checked on her and let her know she was not alone.
Later, another WANA started an on-line business. Just about the time it was taking off, she was broad-sided by an eighteen-wheeler and hospitalized for quite some time. One day I got a message. She was ecstatic. When she finally returned home, she expected all she’d built to be in ruins, but while she was recovering, other WANAs had risen to the occasion to help and not let her platform wither away.
WANAs have cheered for each other’s successes, celebrated births and anniversaries. We have been there to support WANAs who had critically ill family members. Hey, is there anything I can do? Can I help you? Just here to let you know you are loved. You are not alone.
It’s hard to say how many WANAs there are, because I seem to run into them everywhere and it is always an amazing and simultaneously humbling experience.
Recently, I was having dinner with two WANAs in a small suburb of Denver. We were sitting outside enjoying gluten-free pasta (I swear all WANAs are GF, LOL) and my voice tends to carry.
Okay, I am loud naturally. Comes from being half-deaf .
Out of nowhere a woman walking by with two children stops at our table, and says, “OMG! I’m a WANA. It’s Julie Hedlund!”
WANA the Warriors
Today, I want to call the WANAs together for an amazing and special woman (a WANA), Susie Lindau. The thing about WANA is you meet people who make you better than you ever imagined you could be. WANA is about love, community and service above self, so I find it attracts the most beautiful, thoughtful people. You will meet people who are always smiling, even in the face of fear. They will love you even if they’ve never met you and fight for you when they have to.
Susie Lindau is facing breast cancer and she is one of the funniest, most incredible people I’ve been honored to know. She is a true WANA. She’s using her battle as a message to let women facing this disease to know they are not alone. So please check out her blog The Boob Report. She’s having surgery today, and will be going through a radical double mastectomy. If you have a moment and use Twitter, please tweet her some WANA love and well-wishes at #SusieStrong.
Oh, by the way, I wasn’t smart enough to think of that either. Other WANAs got together and made a plan to let Susie know how much we love her and I am just the messenger. They e-mailed me their plan to support Susie, which is why they ROCK.
This is the thing WANAs do and it is why I am so proud of them every day (and yes I am crying as I write this).
Alone is Hell
In 2003 I was misdiagnosed with epilepsy. The medications gave me pneumonia and I was so weak I couldn’t get off the couch. I had no close family and since I’d worked three years on the road, I had no friends. Not able to breathe or move, I withered down to where I wore children’s clothing which I didn’t have the strength to change often. I recall laying in the dark and wanting to die because the crushing feeling of being alone was worse than the illnesses I was fighting.
My mom finally pushed her way in and wouldn’t leave my side. It took months to recover and I doubt I would have had she not stuck to me like a burr.
The WANA World
I only tell you this story because it was my motive behind the type of world I wanted to create. I wanted to create a way that no one would have to be alone. Whether it was something as simple as encouragement to make word count, or a digital family that could be there to send love, prayers and support during sickness or tragedy, that was the community I wanted to be a part of.
The WANAs were there when I got the news my husband was being deployed to Afghanistan. They offered for me to come visit, or for them to come visit me. And the WANAs were there for me when my son was terribly injured. He had all his front teeth smashed into the maxilla and needed emergency surgery. (He is fine now, just looks like an adorable little bat).
I cannot tell you how overwhelming it is sometimes to have once been a person with no friends, to becoming a person who has more friends than she could have ever dreamed of, people of the highest quality. People better than me who make me better. This post does no justice to how much I love the WANAs. What started as a book title became so much more than I could have envisioned.
cult um, family
So please show Susie’s blog some love. Tweet some support at #SusieStrong. Anyone with love to share and spare can be a WANA. There is no official membership, just a very special mission. Love. Only a big heart required.
WE LOVE YOU, SUSIE. You are NOT alone!