Writers are told to write what they know, and to research what they don’t know. Aimee Machado, the protagonist in Due for Discard, met her problematic boyfriend, Nick Alexander, at a gun range. How to write about that when my experience with firearms was limited to the single shot Daisy BB gun of my childhood?
I had never been to a gun range before, so I asked my son to take me for shooting lesson. I came away with a new sense of reality about what it’s like to fire a weapon. I discovered that it involves four of the five senses. The gun was heavier than I expected, the sound was louder, the shell casings flew faster and farther than I expected, and, of course, the smell of gunpowder lingered in the air. Come to think of it, that smell was so strong I could almost taste it.
But the best part was seeing the look on my son’s face and hearing him call me “Deadeye” when 10 of my eleven rounds hit inside the little green box in the center of the target.
It turns out Aimee Machado is a crack shot with a semi-automatic 22 Smith & Wesson. That might come in handy. The hospital where she works as a forensic librarian has more than it’s share of intrigue, and the rural northern California county where she lives has more than it’s share of crime.
I watched an animated movie about a horse called Spirit a few years ago. The children watching with me were enthralled with the story, and I was pleased because I’d been a horse person all my life. Then the whole experience came crashing down. The animators depicted the little foal trotting to a stream, bending his head down, and lapping water like a dog. The children were young enough to forgive this transgression, but I was surprised that the filmmakers had not done their homework. The project was first-rate in every other respect, but this error was hard to ignore. Every horse person who watched it would immediately cease suspension of disbelief. The point here is that horses do not lap water, they suck water. So do llamas. In general, carnivorous animals lap water, and herbivorous animals suck water. Writers who make assumptions in areas outside their expertise, and let those assumptions enter their work, are doing their readers and audiences a disservice, and giving what could otherwise be a prize-winning project a black eye. Whether it’s how animals drink water, or how to determine the age of a skeleton, do your research. When in doubt visit a research librarian at your local library. An intriguing question from a fiction writer could make her day. Or his.