A few weeks back, I was reading a chick-lit sweet Amish story* with lots of police procedural elements. Totally got immersed in the world and believed every detail that author dished out. Why? Because I had zero clue otherwise. My life is the exact polar opposite of “police procedural”. And legal stuff? I can’t tell the difference between “so moved” and “sustained”. Lordie help me if someone wants me to define a tort. (If I’m not mistaken, that’s a lovely lemony treat, right?)
Then in that same novel, something medical happened where stuff like guts or blood or bones or some anatomically gross thing happened. Of course, I’m eating all of that description up like…well, like a yummy torte…because of my Day Job. (I kind of dig blood ‘n’ guts.)
But then it happened. The author tripped and fell down. Like, total swing and a miss. This awesome, immersive experience grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and hurled me out of book. Kind of like when in one of the Star Trek episodes they get thrown out of warp and how jarring that was with space-time and atoms splitting and stuff? Like that.
Lemony torte experience, ruined.
What happened? The author described an emergency tracheostomy. Of course, I’m like, yes I’m intrigued, bring it on, master author. But the description was wrong. It actually wasn’t a little bit wrong, it was All Wrong. The only way it could be wronger was if the dude had shoved the tube through the victim’s eyeball. That much wrong.
This author describes making an incision nowhere near the victim’s Adam’s apple/cricoid but way down at the base of the neck. Nope! Then the author described shoving the tube into the “esophagus”. Double nope! Not only is that maneuver anatomically not possible (you have to go through the WINDPIPE before getting to the esophagus)…but if one truly did cannulate the esophagus? That’d be one dead patient.
So am I a medical writing snob? No, not at all, and that’s not the point. I would totally make the same mistake if I tried to write, say, a police procedural sweet Amish chick-lit military suspense* novel myself. I can’t even accurately identify the most basic of parts of your average assault rifle, much less a how to book someone into jail. And don’t even get me near a crime scene for evidence collection. If I wrote that crime scene in my humorous sidekick Amish sweet inspirational procedural*, no reader would believe it, unless they were under the influence of mescaline. Actually, even someone who has completely dissociated with every scrap of reality would still know I was 10 pounds of BS in a 5 pound sack when it came to legal/crime madcap buddy chick-lit inspirational* novels.
There is so much advice out there – pro and con – about whether we should write what we know.
However, based on that colossal fail example (to be fair, I’m sure that all authors have tripped at times) from that well-known and excellent Amish military suspense* author, I’m going to give you this woman’s opinion: Anyone writing outside of their expertise needs to meticulously research so that their madcap sweet inspirational military buddies-to-lovers* novel is believable. So much research is needed, that the author should either shadow people doing the tasks, personally learn to do them, or should pump anyone they know** for legit information on the topic.
Heck, I’m knee deep in blood, guts, and humanity on most days of my Day Job, and I still ask colleagues for help with details. I pulled our Friendly Neighborhood Orthopedic Surgeon*** over to ask questions about open tib-fib fractures, external fixation devices, return to weight-bearing time, and typical healing times – all for a book I’m working on. Let’s just say that #1) Dr. Jones has no sense of humor and #2) he probably thinks I have a tortured human locked in my basement or something. (#2 is mostly because I also asked him a question about depressed skull fractures. Because this is a rural area and we have no neurosurgeons here, so I went with the next best thing: bone doctor. Beggars/choosers, people. Use what resources you have available.)
And no, I do not have a body in the basement, as far as you know.
But what I’m trying to say here is that I believe authors should start off in the beginning by writing what you know best. It’ll be the most realistic writing you’ll do. Why? Because you’ll sound like an authority… because you ARE an authority. Your readers will believe all that super authoritative information. And later, when you take some creative liberty, it’s easier to slide it by the unsuspecting reader who has been lulled into complaisance by your Authority. (You see how “author” is part of “authority”? That’s not an accident.) Also, if you branch out into an area where you’re not an expert? Research the heck out of it and blend it with the stuff you know well to create beautiful verisimilitude.
But above all? Never, ever snatch away your reader’s lemony torte.****
*Novel types have been changed to reduce chances of identifying the author.
** “anyone they know” should involve people with some level of subject expertise. Not Joe Shmoe off the street. Just in case I was a bit nebulous with my advice there.
***Let’s acknowledge the truth: that description of my colleague is clearly a joke. Ortho folks generally don’t have a well-developed sense of humor. And yes, that’s stereotyping. But to date, I haven’t seen an example to refute overwhelming evidence of serious jock-types in orthopedics. And no that’s not sexist; this description appears equally true for female orthopods.
****Later research has revealed that “torte” is more of a generic term for a “sweet cake” and there are, like, thousands of varieties of tortes, including chocolate, vanilla, berry, and yes, lemon. In case you feel like I’m locking you into one type of torte, I’m not. You can have any kind you want.
Author, daydreamer, and practitioner of trying very hard to duct tape folks together and help when I can.
October 2023 July 2023 June 2023 April 2023 December 2022 September 2022 August 2022 June 2022 May 2022 February 2022 January 2021 November 2020 August 2020 July 2020 May 2020 January 2020 November 2019 September 2019 August 2019 July 2019 March 2019 November 2018 October 2018 September 2018 July 2018 June 2018 May 2018 April 2018 March 2018 January 2018 December 2017 November 2017 October 2017 September 2017 August 2017 July 2017 May 2017 April 2017 March 2017 February 2017 January 2017 December 2016 November 2016 October 2016 September 2016 August 2016 July 2016 June 2016 May 2016 April 2016 March 2016 February 2016 January 2016 December 2015 November 2015 October 2015 September 2015 August 2015 July 2015 June 2015 May 2015 April 2015 March 2015 February 2015 January 2015 December 2014 November 2014 October 2014 September 2014 August 2014 July 2014 June 2014
All Adventures With Hubby Airports Author Interviews Cats Fastdrafting Funny Medicine Hell's Valley Series Hell To Pay Series Medicine Potpourri Star Trek Top 10 Lists Writing Writing Vs Medicine