IWSG Post

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What is the werdest or coolest thing you’ve ever had to research for your writing?

Hmmmm….

Well, I already know that I’m on a Watch List somewhere because of these:

posion

By the way, The How Dun It Book of Poisons is EXCELLENT. Definitely worth the investment to have this one in your writing library. Each page is filled with a poison, the symptoms and treatment as well as type of death. I strongly recommend against acquiring Assorted Nasties.

There are a few other odd books.anatomy

I will say that Death to Dust has got to be the hardest read of this particular set. It was written in the early/middle 1990’s and the sheer callousness of the American funeral industry towards the bereaved and the treatment of the dead body is, in a word, appalling. I can read dissections and autopsies all day long without a break but Death to Dust is challenging just to get through a single section a day. Not chapter,  section. Although the sections dealing with other cultures handling of dead bodies is a lot easier to take.

I could point to my history books. They fill multiple shelves on several bookcases, so it’s not easy to show them all, but it is quite eclectic. And educational! There’s Viking, the FBI, general world history, Asia, Russia, Italy, New York, Art and Archaeology, Religion…There’s a lot that a few pictures just can’t catch.

I’ve watched countless Youtube videos regarding house fires, snow avalanches, what it’s like to get trapped in a house fire or avalanche, how magicians get out of straightjackets upside down, how Animal Rescues raise wild predator chicks for preparation to release them in the wild…

But the weirdest/coolest thing?

Hands down,  it would have to be words and phrases. The etymology of them.

This initially came up while I was beginning research for my steampunks. I found myself looking up phrases and words I’d have the characters use, asking the same thing, over and over:

“When did this phrase/word come into popular usage? Would he really have said ‘sharp as a tack’ in 1897?’ When did ‘get a wiggle on’ make it’s first appearance?  What about ‘bitch the pot?’ I know it was used, but would a New Yorker have used it? What about ‘lollygagging’? I know there really wasn’t much of a sex education class in the 1800’s, and I know that female genitalia didn’t receive medical names until relatively recently in history, but when was that? (turns out that “vagina” was taken as it’s literal meaning, “a sheath” until about 1908. At that time, the word was then officially associated with female anatomy)

Oh, and when I got my hands on the book “How the Irish Invented Slang”

irish

– I swear to you, my inner nerd quivered with orgasmic fury.

*ahem*

Check out the Insecure Writer’s Support Group to see more writers dish about their concerns, their solutions to various problems, or just general clinophobia.

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Inserting Real Details

A lot of authors do it.

Some are sneaky about it because they don’t want to be sued by a conglomerate like, say, those who might be thought of as wearing mouse ears, or perhaps others who are associated with the golden arches.  Many companies are very touchy about how their products are represented. And they always want to get paid for use of their trademarked and copyrighted properties.

Some authors are sneaky because they want to see if you get it – “How many Firefly fans are going to comment on this odd turn of phrase?” Some slide in a bit of their own properties – Stephen King does this quite a bit if you pay attention.

When it’s done right, it can bring a smile to someone’s face. But if you do it wrong?

Oy.  You may not enjoy the reaction from your readers.

Sure, you’re not specifically trying to alienate your readers. No one wants to do that – your readers make it possible for you to write. You need readers.

Readers want to know you’ve done your research. You need to do research before you make those references, because what doesn’t seem like a big deal to you can be a massive problem in the fan base.

A common one I see in fiction is the use of “Ooh-rah!” for American military forces. It’s a motivational cry used by U.S. Marines. Marines are popularly perceived as the toughest of the tough in the American military structure, also the ones with the tightest bonds. A great many American movies and books tend to be about Marines because of this perception. The camaraderie. The fight against impossible odds. The heroes who pull together and sacrifice everything to save the day. OOH-RAH!

It is NOT used by the Army or Air Force. They used “Hoo-ahh!” while the Navy trends towards “Hoo-yah!”  Even then, not all members of the branches do it – some branches reserve those for Security Forces and/or Special Forces only.

A tiny difference, true, but if your reader happens to be a an active duty or a veteran of one of those groups and he reads about your Special Forces Army hero yelling “Ooh-rah!” – he’s going to know you didn’t do your research.  And some military members get a little touchy about their traditions being improperly represented. Many will put down your book and never pick up another written by you again because you screwed up that one detail.

That’s a bad thing. You want to keep your readers, not irritate them.

I’ve read a scenes where our hero is hanging upside down, tied to the rafters by his ankles in preparation for interrogation. The only ill effects hero feels is the blood rushing to his head.

Did you know that being hung by your ankles hurts like a son-of-a-bitch?  Seriously. Dancers, actors, gymnasts, magicians and their props, set and costuming technicians know that. Joe Average? Not so much until he tries it himself.

Or until he researches how and why it’s done BEFORE he tries to escape from a straight-jacket, upside, in the comfort of his own basement (we won’t even get into the issues of load pressures per inch on 2×4 or 2×6 – on the other hand, it does make for painfully stupid YouTube entertainment).

I know I’ve harped about details before. I know I’ve made my own mistakes regarding details, despite the painful amount of research I load up on. But please DOUBLE CHECK EVERYTHING THAT YOU DON’T HAVE PERSONAL EXPERIENCE WITH.

Yes, I know it’s a pain in the butt. Believe me, I know. But those resources are out there and readily available.

And will hopefully prevent your reader from swearing off all of your work.

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Fictiophilia – an IWSG Post

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Have you ever fallen in love with a fictional character?

Sad to say, yes, I have.

And to be fair, most people have. There are few people in this world who haven’t fantasized about someone.  Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, Zoe Washburne, Velma Dinkly, Cole Brookstone, Harry Dresden… the list goes on. I bet if you ask anyone of your friends and they’re being COMPLETELY honest, (albeit, embarrassed) they’ll admit that they too had/have a crush/fascination on a fictional character.

Why do we do this? It’s not like we’re ever going to run into the Spinjitsu Master of Earth while we’re out on any random hiking trail. You have a greater probability of running into Scarlet Johansson at the public library than you do of meeting Harry Dresden.

Even if your library is situated in Chicago.

Well, the answer is very basic (as I’m sure you’re aware) –  They’re idealized versions of a persona. You don’t get to see the bad habits and idiosyncrasies that they unconsciously perform every moment of every day. You never see Zoe Washburne completely loose her shit and scream bloody murder and threats of divorce because her husband left his dinosaurs out for her to step on (again). You never get to see James Bond turning into a total dick about some fast-food joint putting pickles on his hamburger when he expressly directed them not to, and cause a scene because of their presence (Just peel them off and toss ’em, man. Unless you have a food allergy is it seriously worth this level of drama?). You never see Velma Dinkly…

Okay, scratch that. In Scooby-Doo Mystery Incorporated (2012-2013) Velma was perhaps the most emotionally believable character in the cast, so if you discard the fact that she was impossibly smart, she was otherwise a normal teenage girl, warts and all (in that iteration of the show). But the fact that she would totally take a course from the local learning annex on Ancient Mayan Language Arts with you and not trash your interest in it is pretty damned attractive (finding a learning annex that would actually teach that sort of thing is a whole different matter).

But I digress.

We all have those moments in which we look at a real friend, our crush, a family member, our significant other and think (or perhaps say, possibly to no avail) “Why can’t you… Why do you… Can’t you just…”

It can be frustrating.

And just like fictional worlds can give the reader a moment or two of escape from the gnarly real one, fictional characters do the same thing for relationships. In part because we don’t usually see or even imagine Sherlock Holmes grumbling about the laundry – “towels in one pile, whites in another, darks over here, reds go in their own- ‘HANDWASH LINE DRY ONLY!?!’ Are you kidding me?! I don’t have time for that! Why the hell would you buy me this high maintenance wasitcoat? ‘100% Rayon?’ I hate Rayon! And WHO THE HELL THREW IN THEIR SNEAKERS WITH MY DENIM????!!!!! GAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!”

No, no. We see Holmes as intelligent, dapper, witty, arrogant (in a bizarrely charming way because it isn’t aimed directly at us) and (depending on the iteration you prefer) physically attractive.

Because we don’t know what makes the fictional character crack. We don’t know what irritating habits they indulge in. We can imagine they’re in our world or we in theirs and how awesome and perfectly scripted everything is and when we need to come back to the real world, well, it’s not like you have to get your passport checked at the border or anything. Best of all – they’re not real. So it technically isn’t cheating. (Although an argument can be convincingly made about “spirit of the law vs. the letter of the law” and how “checking out of a relationship” with a fictional character is just as damaging as full-on physical adultery, but that’s another topic for another day.)

I have constructed several characters for my stories that I have fallen in love with on some level. During this construction, I’ve have always tried to fit in something to show the irritating side of the character; something that will make them more real – and I also tend to rip it out as well (Unless I need you, my reader, to see the character as an asshole/jerk who might actually deserve their bad end – in which case I will totally annoy you with how they clip their nails near where you’re eating. All the time. Even after you’ve asked them not to. Repeatedly.).

Perhaps I make the character’s idiosyncrasies a little too real, because they begin to irritate me and in my mind, distract from the story. So I end up trending back to the character’s “public face,” the face they show the audience. The face I initially fell in love with in the first place. We can sweep all those bad habits under the rug for another day. (Unless those frustrating habits serve my storytelling ends…)

I don’t think I’m ready to run off to Bora Bora with my characters (or anyone else’s for that matter), but if I love/despise the character I created, I think that’s a pretty good indicator that my reader will have some reaction to the construct, even if it does oppose my own (Seriously? You LIKE him? But he’s an ASSHOLE! I know because I CREATED HIM THAT WAY!).

I suppose any reaction beyond “meh” is better than nothing.

Check out the Insecure Writer’s Support Group to see more writers dish about their concerns, their solutions to various problems, or just general fictiophiliphobia. (Is that a word? I feel like that should be word. Screw it. If “twerking” can be a real word, so can “fictiophiliphobia.” It’s a word now.)

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ISWG March Post

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March 1 Question: Have you ever pulled out a really old story and reworked it? Did it work out?

Heh.

I have a trilogy that I started when I was 12 and finished when I was 27. Each book runs in the neighborhood of 100,000 words. I’d like to think that it shows determination and ambition and an “I CAN do it!” thing, if not actual skill.

See, the writing isn’t awesome and the plot is weak and to rebuild it into something … “better” would be more herculean than it’s worth.

I know, because between ages 27-30, I tried my hand at editing it. EVERYONE says you should do a once over before submission to an agent, so that’s what I did. Repeatedly.

I learned a lot from that editing period. POV. Plot holes. It’s vs. Its. Overdone tropes. Italics. Purple prose. Excessive description. Slicing scenes. Must do more better.

I kept writing and rewriting and writing and rewriting and then a new story came barging in and I lost track of the old trilogy until about 2 years ago.

So I re-read it.

And cringed. A lot.

The effort was there, but I had to face facts – these manuscripts were DOA. There are some gleaming bits of usefulness that can be recycled elsewhere – whole scenes I can lift out and tweak slightly to fit my current work. Concepts, quirky characters, world details.

But the best I think these first three manuscripts will ever be is evidence that I CAN finish a project, dammit.

And organ donation.

Check out the Insecure Writer’s Support Group to see more writers dish about their concerns, their solutions to various problems, or just general biblioophobia.

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