Unorthodox Writing Tips 25: Talk to someone about it.
Have you ever struggled with a scene and just couldn’t figure out how to make it work? Your fought and typed and pained your way through and something just wasn’t quite right? Yeah, never happens to me either. See you next time…
Okay, kidding aside. It’s difficult when you get to a scene and you want to make it right. You’ve done some research, maybe watched a documentary or read an article, but it just didn’t ‘feel’ right. Maybe it’s too sterile. Maybe it’s too stiff. Maybe the vernacular just doesn’t flow the way you feel it should. Talk to someone about it. Find someone who might be in the field of what you’re writing about.
For example, when working on My Teacher is a Zombie I need to understand what made Zombies want to eat brains. I couldn’t talk to a zombie, so I just made that part up. But what the kids were learning in class, that I could talk to someone about. In fact my favorite daughter was a wealth of information when I asked her about certain topics and what her class might be studying at the time. This brought in a dimension into work that would have been missing or I would have had to guess at. Not only did I get topics they might have had during the class, but she also provided me with little things I would have missed like participation points for raising your hand and answering a question, the way some desks are one unit and others had a desk and a chair, the layout of the classroom, the layout of the school. All things I could have incorporated and may in future issues of the storyline.
You know a lot of people. Sure, you’re a writer, you’re an introvert, you usually don’t leave your home unless you have to, but you know a lot of people. Almost everyone you know does something different. Even if you just associate with writers, each of them likely has a day job. Ask them what they do. Go ahead, I dare you. Ask one what they do for a living when not writing. Use this time with someone you know and get some information on their job. Do they use a security badge to get into the office? Do they have a desk? Do they work from a vehicle? What types of tools do they use? Are they in charge of people or a subordinate? What is their boss like? Do they own their own business? Write up a whole array of questions, but of course warn them before hand so they’ll be prepared to answer some questions.
This will open up a variety of things you can pull from to spice up your latest WIP. Adding little things to help your reader relate to you, your characters, and get more involved with your writing. You’ll be able to give your character something mundane to do/perform/look at/think about that a normal person may as well.
Take this one step further. Find someone you want to talk to about a certain topic. Again, be prepared. Get a list of questions. Perhaps you can contact the person ahead of time before you talk and send them the questions you’d like to start out talking about. When you have your conversation, start out with introductions, basic nicety, and ask a question. Allow the conversation to flow organically and as you think of other questions, write them down or ask them. If you can, have a recorder handy. Remember last time when I said watching too many shows will cause ideas to fall away? This is the same thing. You’re going to get a lot of information in one sitting. Your brain is like a glass and the person you’re going to talk to is like a pitcher of water. You won’t be able to retain everything.
If you prepared before you talked to the person, you have a pen (or pencil or tablet), notebook, highlighter. You’ll want to highlight things that make you go “OH! YES!” These are things you’ll be able to use right away. Something that might play into foreshadowing or back story, but something you know you want to use. Then you’ll have a lot of other details. These are things you can drop in “he swiped his keycard and opened the door”, “The middle drawer to cabinet 43 always stuck a little and had to be jiggled to open”, “The warehouse could easily hold a football field under its roof”. Little things that will give that element of realism.
Don’t use everything! Just like you won’t retain everything from the person you talk to, neither will your reader. Nearly everything you get will be your research. If you dump absolutely everything on your reader you’ll 1) bore them to tears even if you’re talking about Nuclear Welders and 2) give them far more information than they need. People like little bites handed to them, not whole meals shoved down their throats. If you put in too much, they’ll skim past it. Just give them enough to be curious that they may even go online themselves to look up some of what you handed them. Open the door and let them walk through, don’t shove them unsuspecting.
Yes, it’s not easy to talk to people. They’re mean, rude, crass, and usually don’t want to talk about work. They’d rather be doing anything else. So start with a friend, give them fair warning, and let it go from there. Don’t be pushy, but don’t be shy. You can even start small. Heck, ask the donut shop owner how many different kinds of donuts they make. They might be happy to just start talking rather than just taking your order. You never know what you might learn, and from whom you might learn it.
Until Next Time!