Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Friday, February 25, 2011

Tip O'Day #28

This guest post is from author Mark Sadler.

Do the research needed for accuracy.

Although I write fiction, I like to be factually accurate in both historical and physical facts. A lot of that research has perhaps already been accomplished, without your realizing it. When I write I draw on a lot of information from personal experience. I had spent the best part of a month hiking on the Appalachian Trail and used old diary notes for details of the trail so it could be used as a location my characters experienced. The two main characters both have lots of me in them as far as traits and characteristics; I drew on knowledge of attending school as a foreign student and playing goalkeeper on a college soccer team. I drew upon my son's work experience on oil rigs, my own love of the movies, and my intimate knowledge of Oklahoma, having resided in Oklahoma City for eighteen years.

For the things I did not know, for instance details on guns, dead bodies and the Episcopalian Church, I went to experts and asked questions. I sat down with a Catholic priest and asked for his reaction to the confession that would be given. Readers are intelligent and have questions and will catch you out if you are inaccurate.

I am currently engrossed in writing what I hope is the first in a five book series. The plot is well scripted in my mind and vaguely outlined. I have my spiral bound notebook with cardboard dividers and pockets to hold documents and have character and plot notes accumulating. It is interesting to see how I am again writing of the familiar, the child of a preacher and using lots of poetic license, but I am in a lot more unfamiliar territory too. Having never been in a law enforcement job and writing about a police detective I am doing a lot more field research. I sat in a nine week course with the Oro Valley Citizens Academy, taking copious notes as officers described their duties. I drove with local officers around the areas of town I am writing about to get their knowledge of the areas - I was told no crime occurred here that didn't involve "meth or incest," what a great line to use in context with my story - and I drove with the Border Patrol down to the Mexican border town of Sasabe, AZ. I have witnessed a car burning in the desert and helped chase down illegal immigrants. Just as much hands-on experience as prior books called for, but more planning and less life experience. I listened to first-hand knowledge from people who attended parties thrown in a drug lord's homes in Sonora, Mexico, and sat down with the town historian at the museum in Prague, OK, to discover what life was like in their small burg thirty years ago.

You want to create life-like scenarios, correct diction for your characters, and describe the places your character might journey. This can be done by reading books or looking online but will not stand in for hands-on experience as you describe what they encounter. It helps describe what and how they feel if you have had a slight taste of it yourself. Then you can create the characters that are running around in your mind in order, letting them out to move and breathe and talk on the pages of your book.

Mark Sadler is the author of BLOOD ON HIS HANDS and blogs at http://damnedinsatiablethirsteternallanguor.blogspot.com/

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