Doing your Homework by Terry Odell

homeworkYou Know is something you’ve probably heard since you had the first thoughts of writing. But what if what you “know” is boring? What if you’ve never suffered for your art? I prefer to think of it as “Write What You Learn.”

I’ve never been a police officer, a covert ops field agent, owned a gift shop, or run a cooking school. But I can look things up, find sources to help. While there’s some expectation that a reader will suspend disbelief, you shouldn’t push things too far. You want your readers to trust what you’re writing, and as soon as a mistake shows on the page, they’re going to wonder what else you got wrong.

If you’re writing about a character who’s field of expertise is foreign to you, for a book to be believable, you need to do your homework. And watching television is NOT doing your homework.

I spent a week on a working cattle ranch when I was writing my Triple-D Ranch series. My brother is a retired chef, and he’s willing to answer cooking/restaurant questions. When I have characters who aren’t cis like me, I seek advice from those who can answer from first-hand experience. Same goes for medical and questions. There on online groups, such as crimescenewriters at io groups, and Legal Fiction on Facebook, where you can ask questions.

I’ve done ride-alongs with deputies. I’ve attended a Civilian Police Academy. Gone to specialized conferences like the Writers’ Police Academy as well as “writing in general” ones. Listened to podcasts (my least favorite research method).

One plus of going to conferences and workshops is that speakers are usually happy to share their contact information and answer followup questions.

After a homicide detective spoke at a Civilian Police Academy session, I told him I was a writer and asked if I could call him. He said that would be fine, and when I did, I offered to meet for coffee. He asked if there was an Ale House near me. I said yes, and then he asked if he could bring some friends. I agreed to that as well. Homework can be fun, right?

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