Sunday, November 17, 2013

Day 315 of the 365 Days of Blogging

The author/publisher,
Dane F. Baylis


There you are, relaxing with a novel, or short story, or maybe a collection of poetry (whether by an individual or in anthology form), and you come to a bit of information or narrative description that throws the emergency brake on your train of thought. There's something in the information being conveyed that just doesn't ring true or accurate. You're no expert (or maybe you are), but the person doing the writing is definitely a god-damned amateur. At least in that particular moment on the page.
It could be something as simple as the description of a meal, or a choice of wine in that passage. Maybe it's an attempt to empathize in a situation where the writer has zero experience, reference, or understanding. (Combat sequences are notorious for this.) Maybe it's something as simple as clothing and how it's worn. Whatever it may be, the writer has stumbled into one of those pitfalls waiting in the narrative landscape and dragged your attention into the hole with them.
How did this happen, you wonder? The answer is simple. The author, in trying to bring realism to a scene, interjected something they 'thought' was correct, without bothering to fact check their assumption. They stepped beyond their own experience and frame of reference.
The easiest way to avoid this is to do the research. If you're going to talk about what it's like to fire a certain type of weapon, maybe you want to get somebody to take you out to the local firing range. In the case of some activities, maybe you would feel safer talking to a recognized expert in the field. When I say recognized, I don't mean by the bartender in the joint you met this person in. I mean an individual or organization who other people in that particular endeavor turn to for answers.
Maybe it's something simple, like describing the ingredients or process involved in preparing a meal. (Want a good seduction scene? Have the leading man suggest dinner at his place instead of that trite "best place in town" scene.) Why not step into the kitchen and give it a try. Look, I just spent part of an afternoon putting together and baking a "from scratch" brandied apple raisin pie. Think that wouldn't impress some lovely? Ask the Editor-in-Wife some time.
If you want to talk about the perils of mountain climbing, have someone introduce you to the gear and a turn on the local indoor climbing wall. You say your hero skydives into his next adventure? Talk to the local instructor in that sport. How about that early nineteenth century adventurer crossing the Missouri River and stepping into the unknown? Invest in some camping gear and head for the back country once in a while. Then get hold of your local historical society and ask them if there's a re-enactment group in the neighborhood you can talk to about their research into your chosen period.
It's not about living the adventure, or the meal, or even the choice of wine. It is about knowing enough NOT to sound like you're making it up as you go. Your readers may not have the experience in that realm either, but I'd bet against long odds, they'll know a line of bullshit when they read it.
Just a helpful hint from your Uncle Dane.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------, love, write. With a modicum of authority.
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Dane F. Baylis

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