Question of the Week: Doing Stuff You Haven’t Done Before

18 Dec

It’s the last week of finals for us, and we hope it is for you, too! We’re excited for our holiday vacations to get a break from school and work and spend time with our families and relax get some real writing done!

This qeek’s QoTW comes from Marina, who asked the following: Say that you are writing a fight scene or perhaps your character is going parachuting and you have never done either of those things yourself. How do you make what you are writing authentic and believable?


Research. Research. Research.

PRADA & PREJUDICE is a time travel, and I’ve definitely never been to
1815. I think the best kind of research is either visiting something
in person, or watching movies. You can read books, and that’s great,
but there’s something about the visuals of a movie that is more
meaningful. I watched VANITY FAIR, PRIDE & PREJUDICE, BECOMING JANE, and countless others.

I once wrote a book that took place on a crab fishing boat on the Bering Sea (It’s on Fictionpress here) I managed to snag a tour of a boat while it was in the port in Seattle, and I watched about a thousand-zillion episodes of Deadliest Catch.

~The Writer with a Book on Shelves


YouTube helps me a lot. If I need to write something where my characters get into a fight–I’ll search for fight scenes on YouTube hoping that one of the clips added to my playlist will stimulate my imagination. Then it’s music that inspires me to write the scene as if I experienced it myself, because each note holds an emotion I might never have felt before.

What I find to be MOST difficult as a historical romance writer is writing about a place and time I’ve never lived in. So reading letters, memoirs and journals written by people who lived in that time is very helpful and inspiring.

~The Writer who Got a Partial Request


It definitely helps to try whatever it is first – or something like
it.  I still remember dashing home from the archery booth at a
Renaissance Faire after taking a turn there, to see if I could capture
the sensation running down my arm through words.  But, that isn’t
always possible.  So, you turn to the experts.  It always helps if you
can track down someone who has done what you’re trying to describe,
and see if they can convey what it’s like.  And the Internet really is
a wonderful thing.  But so are libraries.

~The Writer Who’s Writing Queries


Music helps me get into the scene/action a lot. Through music, I can better visualize the scene–so much so that I can imagine what it’d feel like to plummet into a ravine, or what it’d feel like to be fighting an uphill battle all night long. I also like to act things out, so I’m sure if walked into my office on a day when I’m writing a battle scene, you’d find me swinging a pretend sword (can we make up a term for this? like “Air sword” –instead of “air guitar”??) and running around like a crazy person.

Of course, in terms of physical action, exercising also helps. When I’m running or doing crunches or whatever other physical misery we go through to keep fit, I can better imagine how it’d feel to be fighting nonstop for 10 hours, or how it’d be to train with Faerie warriors. More often than not, if I get physically hurt, those injuries make their way into my novels. For instance, when I was writing A FARAWAY LAND, I slipped on a patch of ice and mangled my knee and ankle. The next day, Salome (AFL’s heroine) wound up hurting her knee and ankle, and limped around with me for the next 50 pages. 😉 Basically, the more you can inject your OWN experiences (even if they seem totally unrelated), the more realistic it will be.

~The Writer Waiting on Submissions


Something I try to remember is that it’s not scientific accuracy you’re going for; it’s emotional accuracy. I try to imagine how I would feel in a given situation, and let my character borrow some of those hypothetical emotions. I try not to go stereotypical with it and have people burst out crying when sad, because sometimes there’s shock. My characters don’t curl their fists and explode in anger; sometimes they quiver or start to tear up with frustration. I learned that when someone gives an atypical reaction it’s more ‘honest’ than what we call ‘normal’ reactions.

As for fight scenes and parachute jumping… as a writer you should be well-read enough to feel confidant in describing almost any situation. After all, if you’ve read all that you can (especially autobiographies), chances are you’ve encountered a similar situation to the one you’re writing. That, or you’ve seen it on TV or in a movie. So you have a basis to go on, and you can improvise from there.

Failing intuition and just flat out making stuff up, there’s lways research. 🙂 And remember, go with something not expected to make your audience really feel what you’re trying to get across.

~The Writer Also Waiting on Submissions


If you want to submit a question, please click on the Ask A Question of the Week link above. We mostly go in order, unless it’s an emergency writing situation, and after we answer your question we reply to you with a link to our responses.

Happy Holidays!

6 Responses to “Question of the Week: Doing Stuff You Haven’t Done Before”

  1. sara December 18, 2009 at 1:23 AM #

    Good luck on your finals 🙂 Cheers to holiday breaks filled with lots of writing (errrrrrrr and family time too, of course!)

    Great advice. I love the youtube idea for researching fights!!

    Also – the history/discovery channels often offer a wealth of information! (Depending on what you’re looking for.)

  2. Rowenna December 18, 2009 at 6:16 AM #

    Great ideas! So true that sometimes it’s the emotional accuracy and not the technical details that you really need.

    By the way, another idea for writers working on historicals–see if you can find a living history event for the time period–or even close to the period–you’re writing about. There are more–and in more locations–than a lot of people realize. Just seeing, smelling, hearing is inspiring–and many of the volunteers are veritable walking encyclopedias (but be careful–a costume doesn’t make somone an expert).

    Better yet, contact the organization and see if you can be a guest at the event. I do Revolutionary War living history, and our organization has measures in place so that anyone can guest with us for a weekend to see if they like participating–so you might get sucked in to a new hobby (it’s more fun than you’d think!), but you’ll also get a firsthand look at your research topic. Nothing like knowing what wearing a corset or firing a musket really feels like 🙂

    Hope everyone has a wonderful holiday break!

    • svonnah December 18, 2009 at 11:05 AM #

      Wow, that’s a fantastic suggestion!

  3. Marina December 18, 2009 at 9:12 AM #

    Wow, thank you for answering my question. I’ve never really thought about reading autobiographies or historicals for research. Often I find myself frustrated when I’m searching, like when I can’t find anything right on YouTube or google. But I think I’ll be a more more patient from now on, since it obviously helps you guys!

    Once, again thank you!!

    • svonnah December 18, 2009 at 11:06 AM #

      Not a problem; glad we could help a little 🙂

  4. Allie December 20, 2009 at 9:52 AM #

    This is great! It’s always neat to see how other people go about things. I do a lot of the reading/watching combo too. Even watching films that don’t relate at all to what I’m writing can be helpful – just watching people move and talk and thinking about how I would describe that is a good exercise.

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