Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Can you ask for Help? You betcha!

The one thing I've learned over the years - never to be afraid to ask for help. Each time I've sought assistance, the information I needed was offered willingly, because people love to talk about something they know.

Early in my career, I wanted my heroine to survive in the middle of a hurricane. At the time I was living in the north of the US. I had never been to the south to talk to anyone who had lived through a hurricane nor experienced one myself. (I can't say that now for I'm a resident of the deep south.) But a friend had been through a hurricane while on vacation in the Caribbean Islands. I asked her to tell me what it was like. She described the winds, the sounds, the heavy feeling, and even her concerns. I asked if I could use those details. She eagerly agreed.

But I had no idea how a hurricane moved. Who better to ask than a meteorologist?

I pulled out the phone book and called the local television station. (This was before the invention of the internet and all the information available.) I asked to speak to the weatherman. He spent an hour describing the movement of hurricanes in the Atlantic and even took the time to check if a hurricane had struck in the summer of my story. I had to move my heroine to another island, but she landed in the middle of a hurricane, thanks to my friend and the local weatherman.

Recently I needed to know how to kill a grisly, the hardest bear to kill. The husband of a good friend was an antique gun-collector and he explained several ways. He knew guns, so I got all kinds of information about how to fire the rifle my 19th century heroine had to use. By the way, in that book, she's quite a marksman. That book was 'A Treasure For Sara'. And I'm told, according to that husband, I got it right, or as a hunter would say, 'dead center'.

If you want to write fiction, and stay within the confines of the real world, you better know of what you speak -- er -- write. Someone out there knows and making a glaring error can destroy your book. So ask for help and get it right!


Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Excellent advice, Allison. Talking with someone in the know is still better for your story's authenticity than dry statistics with no embellishments.

Anonymous said...

The Authors Water Cooler (absolutewrite.com/forums/)is a forum great at offering help. They even have a sub forum called "Story research" and an audiences in the tens of thousands. Its free and a great source. You'll even see me there time to time, given I'm knowledgeable in several areas (military, guns, quantum physics, etc).

Michael Davis (Davisstories.com)
Author of the Year, (2008 and 2009)

TK Toppin said...

I have no qualms about asking for help or advice. The only way to learn, to progress, to improve (as a writer and in life) is to open your mouth and ask a question. And I'm happy to return the favour, if asked.

January Bain said...

I too love real research, Allison.