When You Need That Expert Knowledge, Where Do You Turn?

21 Nov

When writing a book, you may eventually get to the point where you need the advice of an expert.  Not an expert in writing, but an expert in some other field. Depending on your story, this might be a paramedic, a lawyer, a policemen, a soldier or a fire arms expert. You need to find out how to administer an injection of a specific drug, what a process in court might be, how someone would behave when arrested, what it feels like to be shot at or how a machine gun would be stripped, cleaned and re-assembled. These are the types of things that if you get right, will add immensely to the believability of your work, but get them wrong and you’ll find people start throwing your book across the room in frustration. The reason for this is that if someone is reading your work, the chances are they’re already familiar with your specific genre, and so will be somewhat of an expert (or at least might think they are).  They might let little things slide, but not big ones.  The problem is you can never tell what they’ll think is a big one.

This is where experts come in.  They are the people you can turn to when you need to find out things that you wouldn’t otherwise know. You’d think that in the age of the internet, no one would need experts any more, all you’d need was Google, but with Google it can be hard to separate out the useful information from all the noise. It’s quicker and more reliable to pick up a phone, or drop someone a quick email, than to struggle through hundreds of web pages to find the one that will answer your question.

Related to this is the fact that for you to have any chance of finding something with Google, you need to know what question to ask, and if you’re not an expert in a specific field, you might not even know what this is. For example, for a book I’m working on at the moment, I wanted one of the characters, a surgeon, to be able to give someone an emergency DIY operation on a boat to treat a collapsed lung (I’d read about a doctor doing this on a plane once and had always thought it would be an interesting thing to include in a story). This isn’t something that can easily be found on Google because there isn’t any obvious search terms to take you to the results you want. Far easier to ask a doctor (or even better a surgeon – it turns out all you need is a couple of lengths of plastic tubing, a half-filled water bottle, a razor blade and the ever-versatile duct-tape to hold it all in place).

So where do you find your experts?  I don’t know about others, but I tend to collect potential experts as I move through life. Whenever I meet someone who has an interesting job, or a special bit of knowledge, I’ll file the information away for when it might be useful. This means that I’ve got a nice mental bank of potential experts to draw on. When I don’t have someone already, I have a tried and tested way of finding someone who can help, and it rarely fails.  I simply ask people I meet, and I mean pretty much everyone I meet until I get the information I need.  It’s amazing how many people you know have a depth of knowledge about subjects you never thought they’d even have heard of. In particular, it’s amazing how many people know languages like Russian or Japanese, and yet it never comes up in conversation until you ask.

What I’ve found is that almost everyone who have some sort of specialist knowledge is more than happy to share it, particularly when they find out you’re a writer and you want to know for a book you’re working on. Some will do it just because they can, others because they’ll get a thrill from seeing their name in the acknowledgements or the preface. Still more will do it because they’ll get the chance to read something before anyone else gets to see it.  Either way, you’ll find that seeking the advice of experts will go a long way to improving your work in ways that you could never do without their help.


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From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in the UK. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more.

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