Adding realistic details

Well, I’m happy to say that I’m continuing to make good progress in mapping out my storyline after the course correction from last week.  I’m following advice given by other writers and am trying to write a little every day.  At the moment, I’m well into Chapter Two (hooray!) and am continuing to find that my story flows so much better now that I got rid of the overly complex ideas about what made my character tick.

As I write the first draft, though, I’m also finding that there are areas I probably need to know more about to make sure that all the details in the book are realistic and don’t come across as made up (which, at the moment, they kind of are).  These are details about the historical review process here in Virginia, the probate process when someone inherits a property, and the architectural review process when someone decides to put an addition onto a house, particularly a historic (though not historically recognized) house.  I have a general layman’s impression of these things but also know that the details, as I’m laying them out in the draft, aren’t necessarily accurate.

The 21 July Word Craft column in the Wall Street Journal was very relevant to this particular issue:  how to add realism and plausible details to our stories.

(I will just note, as an aside, that the WSJ has become my favorite newspaper for the wide range of very interesting articles that it has, many of which, though not all, are available for non-subscribers online.)

At any rate, this particular column was written by Robert Dugoni and addressed how he tries to get more realistic details in his novels by interviewing and meeting with those who do know what the details should be.  He says he’s often been told to “write what you know,” but the challenge is that this admonition can be rather limiting in terms of what we all could write about.  What to do?  His solution has been to seek out those who have the expertise in a given subject that he lacks and to interview them, telling them up front that he’s writing a book and that he would appreciate meeting with them to learn more about a given topic.

Well, it sounds like a good recommendation and one that I’ll try to follow.  In the coming days and weeks, I hereby resolve to do some research and get the names and phone numbers of folks who will know much more about the details I lack, and will call them to see if they’ll meet with me for a short interview.  That means finding someone on a historical review board (shouldn’t be a problem), a lawyer with knowledge of probate (hmmm, will I have to pay for this or would someone do it gratis?), and someone who knows about planning approvals and design review (should be doable).  I’ll be sure to let you all know how this turns out.

Have any of you taken this approach?  Did it work?  Were you satisfied with the outcome?

P.S.  I must admit that I’d never heard of Robert Dugoni before this article but now am planning to get one of his books for my Kindle to check it out.


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