Thursday, August 29, 2013

Four Tips When Using Experts To Help Your Story Feel Real

Last night after the sprint I got a chance to talk to an assistant district attorney about my law enforcement scenes in Pocket Full of Posies.  It was so interesting to me to hear her take on it.

"This part of the scene worked, but this part didn't.  Here's why."

"This is what should be happening.  Cops know the score, your guy should be doing this."

"Here's the way this procedure would work in a unit.  You've got to get that part right."

She took apart two of my scenes in short order, but I'm so grateful to have her insight.  Having an expert look at my work always ups the ante in making my characters feel real.

But how do you get an expert?

For me, I've been very lucky in my networking at conferences, in writer's groups, and just asking.  A lot of professionals are happy to help, but here's some tips.

  • Have your questions ready.  Know exactly what you need them to tell you.  For example, I needed to know what was the exact procedure and consequences if a cop was being accused of taking drug evidence from a crime scene.  Be specific and be prepared.

  • If they agree to look at your scene/work, give them plenty of time.  They are busy people and need flexibility. For example, don't say, I need this back by tomorrow.  Be respectful of their time.

  • Don't be embarrassed to tell them you are researching for a story, but be professional at the same time.  For my research I'm usually working with military and law enforcement people, so I've learned to get right to the point.  Although when my son was in the hospital recently, his cardiothoracic surgeon had a brother who was in the DEA and when I was asking him a few questions I realized that surgeons are just as blunt and to the point as the military people I've talked to.  Don't take offense, sometimes it all depends on the type of person you are talking to.  When I was researching oil leases in the Middle East, the expert I talked to there seemed to have all day to chat.  I loved that.  When I was talking to a Marine about his experience in Iraq, it led to a charity effort called Skittles for Soldiers.  You never know where your contact can lead you or your story, but as a rule, no matter what, always stay professional and friendly.

  • Thank them for their help and include them in your acknowledgments.

I have really appreciated the men and women who help my characters and my stories feel more real.  I have met some incredible people and I like to think a little bit of them live on in my books.  Meeting new people, both before and after the book is published, is one of the biggest perks of being an author for me.

(And now back to fixing the scene the ADA was kind enough to help me with!)

1 comment:

Debra Erfert said...

While I don't have an assistant district attorney to ask questions, I do have in-house resources. My husband is a retired police officer who went up through the ranks, from patrol to lieutenant. He knows practically everything dealing with law enforcement. One brother-in-law is retired from the fire department and an expert in arson investigation, and another brother-in-law is a latent identification/crime scene expert. I am friends with several attorneys, and one judge. Is there any wonder I'm interested in written mysteries and thrillers?