Tuesday, October 31, 2006

See For Yourself

First-hand research is always best. Sometimes it’s not an option and a writer has to depend on books, Internet searches and second-hand accounts. We’ve got a character zipping off to Mexico City, but we’ve never been there and can’t go do research. So we turn to secondary sources. Luckily, we can find out lots of information from other places and we can go to chat rooms and ask questions of people who live in Mexico City or other places we need to know about.

Luckily, some places never seem to change. Like Central Texas. Hot. Little rain. Humid. The Mesquite is always green. We only have two seasons: flip flops and shorts or flip flops and a long-sleeve t-shirt. January or July – it’s all the same.

Wrong. That’s a myth perpetuated by Texans.

Today is beautiful. Granted, most days in Central Texas are, but we do have rain. We do occasionally have to wear coats. Some people even wear close-toed shoes – I’m not often one of them. This morning as the sun came up it was cool, not cold. The sky is now a soft blue with white puffy clouds splattered here and there. It’s the last day of October. Trees are beginning to lose leaves. Granted, not all the trees, but there are a few trees even here that turn brilliant colors and lose their leaves. Out my kitchen window I can see the roof of a house in the valley, the only house in sight. By winter, I’ll be able to see more of the house, the front of it, the porch, the smoke curling from its chimney. We may not be able to often legitimately use our fireplaces, but we do have a few opportunities without having to turn down the a/c.

Don’t rely on what you think you know about a place. If you can’t find out first-hand, then try to talk to people who live in that setting. And not just one person. Talk to several. One time while working on a book I needed to know if a bus could drive into Central Park and load passengers. I tried to find out through research and couldn’t get an answer. I turned to the Internet and put the question out in a chat room of other authors. Got my answer. Got several answers. Different answers. Sometimes you have to go with the majority or the answer that comes from the most reliable or knowledgeable source. But you can’t just shrug your shoulders and flip a coin. If you’re wrong, your readers will catch it.

It’s much better if you catch it before it goes to print.

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