Let’s Talk with Terry Odell

Learning While Writing

Terry Odell

Congratulations to Connie Williamson, who won a cool Windswept Danger magnet and a download of the book.

When I started writing, the first rule was “Write What You Know.” But aside from knowing any book I wrote that conformed to that rule would be boring as all get out, part of the fun of writing is learning new stuff.

In my first book, I looked up constellations that would be visible in the night sky at the time of year and the place my characters would be gazing at them. (Never mind that scene never made it to the book; if it had, it would have been right).

I write romantic suspense featuring hero cops and covert field operatives, computer specialists, pilots—none of which I know anything about. My heroines have been artists, decorators, social workers, cooks, cops, boutique owners—and I’m only slightly better “educated” in those topics.

But with the world only a Google search or a phone call away, we have access to volumes of information that will keep our books accurate. (Note I didn’t mention watching television as a valid form of research!)

I’ve learned about firearms and firefighting. What trees grow where. What you can and can’t learn from a cell phone. What might disable a private jet, and how to make sure it lands safely. Buzz words and jargon. What K9s can do.

Sometimes, you do “write what you know.” In Windswept Danger, I set the book near where I live so I knew about the climate, the terrain, the plant and animal life. In fact, I took the picture for the background of the cover down my street.

In the book I’m writing, I’ve got cowboys. I know that you should NEVER put a Stetson on a table brim down. I’ve got a cooking instructor. I’m having way too much fun researching recipes.

And, sometimes, the hardest part of research is knowing when you should have looked something up. The most common firearms mistake is thumbing a safety off a Glock. I learned that one before I made the mistake. All semi-automatics are not created equal. And, thanks to a sharp-eyed critique partner, I learned that not all cars come with manual transmissions, when she said the Highlander SUV I’d given a character only came in automatic. She saved me from an egg-on-the-face moment.

What about you? Have you learned anything by reading fiction? Did you trust the author, or go look it up to make sure they got it right?

I’ve got a cool Windswept Danger magnet and a download of the book to one reader. Contest runs through Wednesday, August 12th

You can enter by leaving a comment here, AND by entering the Rafflecopter contest. Just tell me something you’ve learned while reading for “pleasure.” And, for an extra entry, tell me about a blunder you’ve discovered while reading.

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Comments

  1. Our family ‘does’ National Parks. I started planning our yearly trips based on the books by Nevada Barr that I read!

  2. I’m glad that you don’t limit yourself to ‘what you know’ because we can only know or remember so much. Think how frustrating that would be. That’s what makes your books so interesting.

  3. Terry Ambrose says

    If we just wrote what we knew, this would be a very boring job. Learning new stuff is half the fun!

    • Totally agree with you, Terry. (Although I confess to deciding against certain plot lines when the research would be way, way out of my comfort zone.)

  4. I learn lots of things. Sadly, my memory allows me to forget them rather quickly. Which is why I’m always learning! 🙂

  5. sallycootie says

    Interesting post. When people say “oh, you’re just reading fiction” I think be quiet – there is so much you learn about history or science or just the culture of different periods. Unless I am already not enjoying a book (which means I will stop reading it) I usually trust the author and don’t double check anything.

  6. Thank you for a very interesting article and the great contest!

  7. Oops that sentence should read: “You don’t have to be military to get it RIGHT when writing about US.

  8. Terry, I have been writing about Navy SEALs. I’m an Army Vet, my husband retired from the army and there are lots of army people and vets in the family. No SEALs, no special forces. I do have several NON fiction books on them, I have my loop of RomVets (female veterans that write romance) and Google. You don’t have to be military to get it write when writing it. But, please ask someone or look it up. I wrote a Lord of the Rings fan fiction as my first stab at writing. I knew nothing other than the movies, never heard of them at all until the movies and even then I never saw them in the theater. A friend talked about them at work until I was intrigued enough I wanted to watch them. Oops I was hooked. But, I wrote my fiction about the next generation based completely on research. Obviously, I didn’t live it or know about it lol.

    • I started off writing Highlander fanfiction. The fans were adamant about adhering to canon but as long as you moved the characters around, they’d buy it. It was a great training ground for me.

  9. I learned I could not read scary books at night! No way will my eyes close right after something very scary. Here’s something I learned from reading a book: people make mistakes and sometimes bad things happen to good people. The truly interesting part of a book for me is the human struggle against adversity.

  10. I’ve learned a lot about the customs and proprieties of Regency England and battles between the Scots and English by reading historical romances.

    • I always trust the authors of historical fiction, since I know virtually nothing about most of those time periods. I’d never know if the author made a mistake (which makes me a perfect reader!)

  11. tinawhittle says

    Write what you know is the very first rule I broke. Boy, was that a challenge, but boy, has it been fun (especially the Ferrari research).

    • Right, Tina — there’s so much cool stuff out there. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that you’re supposed to be writing a book when you get caught up in the research.