Thursday, April 11, 2013

Getting It Right

If you're stuck on how to spell a word, you can turn to a dictionary. If you want a word that's more specific than the word in your head, you can look in a thesaurus.

Sometimes, though, you may feel that what you need can't be found in a book. For example, one of the characters in your book is a police officer, but you, personally, know nothing or very little about being an officer or following police procedures. If you have time, you can probably find a class on police procedure at your local college or junior college. You might also know someone who works for your local police department who can help you with information or an answer to a question.

Before you do that, though, do some research. The police or contact person with the police can't give you the answer you want unless you know what you want. You're going to have to narrow down your question. Rather than asking how police investigate a crime scene, try to narrow it down to specifically what you need to know.

To narrow down your question, you can turn to books. For example, I have a textbook called Practical Homicide Investigation: Tactics, Procedures and Forensic Techniques. It's the second edition and it's pretty old (1993), but I still check it first for the basics.

For most subjects, it's fairly easy to do research. And sometimes you can ask experts, either in person on online.

For example, there's a guy online who can be a good source: Lee Lofland --   He has a Writer's Digest book called Police Procedure & Investigation. You can also check out his blog, The Graveyard Shift

You may be thinking that you don't really need to do the research because your editor will catch any mistakes. Unless your editor is an expert in police procedure -- or whatever your topic is -- she probably won't catch it. There are plenty of things that your editor will catch, from spelling to commas to punctuation to characters who change names mid-book to the overall story line. Unless you hire and pay an editor or researcher to do the work, it's up to you. Even if you can afford to do that, though, it's good for you to know as much as you can about the topic or job or setting.

Helen Ginger
is an author, blogger, and the Coordinator of Story Circle Network's Editorial Services and writing coach. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. In addition, her free ezine, Doing It Write, which goes out to subscribers around the globe, is now in its fourteenth year of publication. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. Helen is the author of 3 books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series, Angel Sometimes, and two of her short stories can be found in the anthology, The Corner Cafe. Her next book, Dismembering the Past, is due out in Spring 2013.


  1. Lee Lofland also runs the Writers Police Academy where you can get real, hands-on training if you're serious about getting the details right for any police/firefighter/EMS oriented book. Where else can you get to play SWAT and clear an apartment building? Or go into a burning building? Or see K-9s in action? Or get shoot/don't shoot training? The course instructors are all professionals in their fields and are phenomenal resources--they're all so willing to answer questions, both at the conference and after the fact.

    Terry's Place

  2. That's true, Terry. The Writers Police Academy is a great experience. Thanks for mentioning it!

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  4. Some famous writer ... I forget who ... said, "Write about what you know," or something like that ... anyway, I took that heart, then realized, I didn't know nothin' (like how to spell, for example) ... so if I was gonna write anything, I'd have to fake it. The Internet has been a big accomplice in this ruse ... but so far so good. As my brother-in-law, Abe Lincolnwicz once said, "You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time ... and generally, that's sufficient."

  5. Research. I love it. Have we ever discussed the different search engines available for writers? It's not just a Google or Bing world out there. We should get on that for a future post. Let me moodle it a bit and see if I can think of anyone particularly good who could guest for us.

  6. Good reminder, Helen. I have done hands-on research - riding patrol with police officers and spending days with detectives - among other things. What I have discovered recently is that things change with the times, so I have to constantly update the information I gathered first 20 years ago. I have also discovered that the Internet is a good place to go for research.

    I have also discovered that you can't rely on the editor to get all the police and law enforcement jargon correct. The editor I work with on the Seasons Series had trouble with terminology that is specific to officers. At first she kept wanting to correct the spelling of some words until I pointed out that they are commonly used that way by officers.

  7. Good topic Helen. One resource I turn to when I need some words to help my internet search is to try one of the reverse lookup dictionaries. You describe the word and it gives you some options. I find I use it more often these days, but I will leave the supposition as to why up to you. ;)

  8. I have a really great editor, who happens to be Helen Ginger, but I don't expect you to know everything about every topic! Thanks for the tips on sources. Google is my friend as well. If I start to spell a word, Google usually knows which one I mean. It's amazing how much Google knows!

    Morgan Mandel

  9. Thank you, everyone, for adding your words of advice and your resources. All of it is really helpful!

  10. Ah, Helen, this is a superb piece. Nothing ruins the credibility of a book like wrong or unrealistic information, which is quickly noted by those in the know.

    In my second novel, I have three protagonists -- all attorneys. Needless to say, I spent more than the usual amount of time with lawyers. One, in particular, was especially helpful, even setting office time to answer my many questions.

  11. I met Lee at a conference and he is a terrific resource. I hope to get to one of his WPAs. I find just being brave enough to ask people questions can result in the answers you need. Lots of people like to talk about their work, especially to writers!

  12. BTW, Lee if very active on social media and leaves lots of juicy and interesting links to useful sites. Well worth connecting with him.


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