Did you know that when you loosen the bolts to drop the transmission pan, you should leave the bolt over your head for last and then pry on the corner farthest away from your face? Unless your actual goal is to cause your husband to choke with laughter while pointing at your tranny fluid covered face and body, the above procedure should be followed. If you can’t learn from the actual experience (as I did when I spent several hours trying to get old tranny fluid out of my hair) then you will need to learn from those who have the appropriate experience.
This is about figuring out how something works so you don’t sound like a complete idiot when someone reads your book. I know that all my friends think I’m brilliant (otherwise they aren’t my friends) but the simple truth is that I’m often lacking in the necessary knowledge to write about certain technical things. I’ve always been okay with admitting when I don’t know something, and over the years, I’ve learned to ask those questions sooner rather than later.
“So, finger tight is not an extra quarter turn with a 3/8” ratchet?” The failure to ask that particular question resulted in my splitting the pan gasket and having to remove the transmission pan a second time. Mr. Scott was not as amused by this failure to ask the right question. Although by then, I knew the secret of which corner of the pan to drop.
The point of this is that you have to know your limitations about the subject. I’m a firm believer in asking for help when I need it. I can “wing it” on certain things, but I can’t and won’t do that when it comes to the technical material. I can’t ask the reader to suspend their belief on everything. Ninety percent of what I write about can and has happened to someone, somewhere. I try to weave the story around certain realities so that the reader is comfortable coming along for the ride. But if you screw up basic stuff, then you’ll cause the reader to step out of your world and say bad things. We’ve all had this happen when reading.
Several years ago, I had a terrible experience with a novel in which the heroine was some bada**, super-dooper FBI agent. About half way through the book, the heroine drew her weapon, previously described as a nine-millimeter semi-automatic, cocked it, and fired two rounds, dropping the villain in his tracks. She did not share with us where the rounds hit the villain. Being a good agent, she immediately reloaded her weapon by taking two bullets from her purse (I guess they were just laying around in the bottom with her lipstick), placed them in the cylinder, and gave the cylinder a spin before closing it and putting her weapon in her holster. Then she went over to make sure the villain was actually dead.
WHAT??? Are you kidding me? (If you don’t know why this is wrong – email me and I’ll explain it.) I ranted to everyone who would listen for about two days on this one. I was so torqued, that I took the time to write a review, send a letter to the author, the editor, and the publisher telling them why I firmly believed they were idiots. I couldn’t even finish the book, which up to that point hadn’t been all that bad.
But, this particular author had provided a valuable service to me and in the long run, my $7.99 for that paperback was well spent. “If you can’t be a good example for everyone, than you’ll just have to serve as a horrible warning.”
I started work on my current book and hit a spot where I didn’t have a working knowledge of something and the all-knowing, all-powerful Internet wasn’t going to fill the void. Well, it would have, but I don’t need Homeland Security showing up because I’m trying to do research on bomb making. Anyway, I wrote past it for the moment simply by writing, “She says something intelligent here about the IED/Bomb. Paragraph break – add bomb detail crap here,” paragraph break, and went on with the story. I then put out a request to my friends asking for help and knowledge concerning IEDs and mortars, and my friends responded. Prior to completing this book, I will ask some of my friends in law enforcement to get me in touch with someone on a bomb squad (I have interesting friends), and I will send them the chapter and ask them if I got it right. My goal is not to tell someone how to build a bomb (you can learn this for yourself on the Internet) but to make sure the things my characters are discussing, as well as the effects of the bomb and blast, are things that they would and could know and are as correct as I can get them.
It’s all about asking someone who has the knowledge to share it. Most of your friends will.