So you decide to write a book and the main character is going to be a Firefighter because you’ve always thought it was an exciting occupation. Before you let your fingers do the walking through your search engine, you will want to consider contacting someone who knows something about fighting fires. What you need is a Subject Matter Expert.
It’s fiction, you say, what the heck do I need one of those for when I can just make stuff up? Well, do what you want, it’s your funeral – I mean book. But in my opinion even fiction writers need to weave believable elements throughout their plot. Here’s why:
- Realistic elements connect the reader to the story – If I am reading the story, and I can buy into what the characters are doing and why they are doing it, I am much more likely to stay engaged. Even if I am not familiar with a particular subject or occupation, I can still sense when something is a stretch as far as the realism goes. There is nothing wrong with putting a twist on things, just be sure that you have the answers in place to explain the differences between what is commonly known, and the reality you write. This is the absolute best quote to sum up this idea: “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” ~ Pablo Picasso
- Unless you’ve done it, you need someone else’s input – I haven’t fought fires and I have no idea what it involves or how someone would react if put in that situation. In order to make the scenes as realistic as possible, input from someone who has actually done whatever it is you are writing about is imperative. At the very least, an email to someone who is in the field might suit your need. I wouldn’t have known unless I had asked, that firefighters went in by twos, that they were in constant contact via their radio, or what it feels like to be in 100 pounds of gear when entering a burning building. Get into the research, it’s fun learning about careers you might not otherwise have considered.
- Someone who does what you are writing about is bound to read your book – And then watch out! They won’t have anything kind to say if you don’t get it right. They might overlook a slight error here and there, but they will definitely be able to tell if you didn’t ask any questions. There are some jobs that have security limitations, but even those organizations have staff members in place to respond to media inquiries. A simple email with your questions, especially if you explain that you are a writer and provide links to your work, can go a long way. While I couldn’t get specific answers regarding the duties of an Air Marshal, the gentleman in charge was nice enough to answer what he could, which gave me enough direction to make the scene credible.
- It shows you take pride in your work – A well researched book shows that the writer is taking his job seriously. That it is important to him (or her) that the story be told in the best way possible. I appreciate that as a reader, so want to be sure as writer I am doing as much as I can to make that happen. I realize that magic isn’t real, that the elements can’t be controlled, but I want to write in such a way that by the time the reader finishes my story, they embrace the impossible. The most fun you can have with a book is imagining the “what if,” and I believe understanding the “hows” will help you explain the “whys” in a beautiful and realistic way.
If you are looking for information on various occupations, start local and go from there. Chances are most of your questions can be answered by your local Emergency Responders, Public Officials or Business Owners. You can also reach out to the personnel in charge of responding to media requests, or go onto blogs through writing groups and ask other authors who have used that occupation for characters they have written. I have found that most writers are more than happy to share their knowledge or at least get you heading in the right direction.
Give yourself enough time to use Subject Matter Experts when writing your book, as waiting for responses can delay you from completing your edits or even making your publishing deadline. If possible, contact more than one source for answers to your questions.
Speaking to a Subject Matter Expert can provide you with small details that can make a huge impact on your story. When incorporated correctly the scene should be not only seamless, but the information contained in it should ring true. A well crafted scene with realistic details is where the real magic lies. Now if you will excuse me, I need to find some experts in the medical field…I have some healing that needs to happen in Book #4!
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Thank you so much to all Emergency Responders for your hard work and dedication. Your efforts are truly appreciated! Safe journeys to you all…