1. Fronzizzle
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    Fronzizzle Member

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    New Writer Looking for Advice - 3 Questions

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Fronzizzle, Feb 14, 2014.

    Hello All,

    I was happy to find this forum, I've been browsing some of the posts for awhile now. I don't want to bore people with too many details, but a few months ago I started writing again after a long lay off, and this time I stayed with it until I completed the first draft of my novel.

    I'm now starting the process of going back and cleaning up some things and I'm struggling with the proper/accepted way to handle a few things, I'm hoping I can get some feedback on the items below:

    1) As I went through the book, I found I struggled with how to properly refer to the characters. The story has two main characters, five secondary characters and maybe ten or eleven smaller or part time characters. When referring to the main characters, it felt natural to go by their first name but for all the rest...I felt like I wanted to switch back and forth a lot. Two of the secondary characters are homicide detectives and I frequently felt the need to change from "Detective Jones" to "Jones" to "Phil Jones", etc. Likewise, with new characters, I'd introduce them and then struggle on how to refer to them. I went back and looked through some books I liked and paid attention to how the authors handled this, there didn't seem to be any set pattern but I'm wondering if there is an accepted way or rule to follow?

    2) For many items I wanted to research, I was able to find the answers I looked for online. However, I wasn't able to locate everything. For example, regarding the homicide detectives...I have no idea if people really call them Detective Smith or Officer Smith or Sargent Smith or what. I don't know if it varies between departments and jurisdictions or if it's a pretty set standard. Anyway, this seems like something I would best find out by speaking to an actual detective, but I have no idea how to go about that. Do I cold-call a local precinct and try to talk to someone, explain that I'm a writer and looking for information? Will that get me laughed at and hung up on? Is it better to send a letter or something, or just show up at the station? I struggle with how to to handle this.

    3) Finally, I wonder how important it is to be 100% accurate regarding details that only a few people would ever know. I understand that doesn't sound good, I strive to be as accurate as possible whenever I can. An example of what I'm talking about is, a few scenes in my book take place in a local police station. The way I describe it in my book is a combination of stations I've seen in movies and on TV. I could be more accurate if I visited the real station, but I don't see how that would change or advance the story in any way, and the only people that would ever know would be those that read my book AND had visited the real police station. As a counter to this, when discussing driving to various areas, I actually drove around and made note of street names, some business locations, etc. thinking that it would help with the realism. Just wondering where to draw that line.

    Sorry for the long post, looking forward to some feedback. Thanks in advance for all replies.
     
  2. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Hi,welcome to the forum.

    You answered #1 yourself:
    "I went back and looked through some books I liked and paid attention to how the authors handled this, there didn't seem to be any set pattern."​
    A good place to learn is reading other stuff.

    I think you'll find the answer to #2 in the same place. But judging from my profession, co-workers tend to be informal with each other. When the exchange is between supervisors and worker-bees, the frequency with which they interact and the formalness of the profession dictate when titles, last names or first names are used.

    As for #3, if people would never know why would it matter? Some authors strive for meticulous accuracy, some take a lot of literary license so to speak. Have a beta reader tell you if they find something less than credible.

    Right now in my story I'm working on making some things more credible. Despite the fact they actually are based on real events, a couple of my critique readers didn't find them credible. Now that's a dilemma.
     
  3. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    Welcome to the forums! Relax, learn, and grow as a writer. We're a friendly bunch, you know. :)

    1.) It depends on how much time they get in the book. If it's just a couple of lines, just give them a title such as "a man" or "the cleaning lady". If it's a little more than that, I'd say that's your call. Just bear in mind that you should flood your reader's mind with names. Also, with the detectives, just refer to them as either just "Jones" or "Detective Jones", as interchanging them will confuse the reader. I would stick with just the surnames though - it makes it feel more formal (unless you're not going for formal).

    2.) I would say that as it's not important or secret information that you want to find out about, then you could probably just turn up at the station and ask to speak to someone there and then or set up an "appointment". I personally wouldn't call or write a letter, as you would probably be taken more seriously if you were seen in person. Just remember to write down all the questions you want answered in a notebook and take it with you, so you don't forget them, and be confident! That will also make you seem like a more professional writer, I'm sure. I haven't done "serious" research like this myself, but I will do soon. Just be yourself and go to the station knowing exactly what you want without being rude. Go for it!

    3.) Depends on your market, in some ways - a crime novel should be 100% accurate in my opinion, because readers expect fact as well as fiction. The same goes for thrillers, political drama, and suchlike. However, there are people who will pick up on false statements, but as your particular example is unknown to the vast reading population, I'd say you're okay. Again, I'd say this is more of a judgement call on your part. :)

    Hopefully these answers are of some use to you, but I'm just a fallible man, so don't take my word as gospel. Writing a novel is a wonderful achievement, by the way: congratulations! :D
     
  4. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    After you introduce Detective Jones, just be consistent in how you (the narrator) refer to him: Jones, or Detective Jones, whichever you prefer. Other characters might address him differently. A rookie cop might call him "Detective Jones" while other detectives would probably just call him "Phil."

    See my comment above.

    Accuracy has to do with factual reports. In fiction you want plausibility and believability. Since you're creating a fictional police station, the description just has to sound believable in the circumstances. If it's a small town, for instance, a 12-story police building wouldn't be plausible.
     
  5. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    As for names a lot depends on the POV chosen. If it's first person the name used would always be influenced by how the protagonist thought of him or her in the moment that protagonist called now. In third person, you would use one designation when the narrator speaks and whatever the characters use when addressing that character. You might use "the detective," to break up using his name, but in general, pick a name and stick with it.

    Where it gets tricky is that POV is a big factor. If you're using a close POV you should use the name the protagonist uses in his/her thoughts, so the reader will use that, too, to to strengthen the reader's involvement. But if we've been calling a character Susan, when in her POV or someone who knows her, and then change to the POV of someone who doesn't know her, she goes back to being, the "woman," or the "pretty brunette" till that protagonist learns her name.

    As for learning police procedure, you might pick a slow time and drop in at the local police station, tell them you're trying to be accurate, and would like to ask some questions. But before that, you might look at a few procedural books. There are lots of books on how things are done, designed for writers. You can learn what a day in the life of a homesteader, a knight, a Middle Ages housewife, etc is like, from a book that's a click away. Here's one on police procedure. There are many more.

    As for how critical getting details right, readers of crime fiction, like historical novels are nit-pickers, and if if you get the shade of a uniform wrong you'll hear howls of outrage.

    There is a way to cheat, however. When I decided to write about a man who was the local lawman in a small town, I set it up so he got the job because the dying lawman who had held the job for so long said, "Give the job to Ted Blackwell. He's the only one in town dumb enough to say yes." So then I didn't have to worry if he was doing things wrong, because he did everything wrong. :) Of course it didn't sell, so maybe...
     
  6. Fronzizzle
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    Thank you all for the detailed and quick replies! Some very good advice here.

    I went and skimmed through some of my chapters, it appears that while I was very consistent with the names for the main characters, I jumped around quite a bit for the secondary ones. I obviously need to work on being more consistent with that, and I've got quite a bit of editing to do.

    GingerCoffee - The credibility issue is one I'm struggling with on a couple of key points myself. I don't think what I wrote so far is impossible, just...unlikely, I guess.

    David Thomasson - thank you for the great definition of accuracy versus plausibility. Sometimes I manage to confuse the two and get too hung up on being accurate. Hopefully, I'll remember this next time!

    Anyway, thanks to all again. Happy Valentine's Day!
     

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