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Monday, May 31 2010

Penny, one of the women in my writing group, is a whiz at incorporating current events and trendy products in her books. Her characters own i-Phones, sip lattes, and wear Prada. A character in one of her most recent books participated in geo-caching hunts that use GPS systems to locate hidden treasures. In the  latest chapter I was reviewing, one of the characters was off to clean up a house where piles of junk had collapsed on a couple of hoarders and they'd starved to death. This little anecdote had nothing to do with the main plot, but I immediately recognized the story as a spin on an article I'd read just the other day. Penny had clearly read the same article, which sparked her imagination and provided fodder for her book. That's an excellent skill in a writer, observing the outside world, identifying nuggets worth keeping, and weaving the information into a story. She's one of those writers who carries a notebook in her purse, jotting down snippets of conversations, taking notes on interesting events.

I think proactive observation is an attribute certain people automatically possess and one I'd love to learn. It's akin to being a natural inventor. Most people say, "Gee, I wish they'd come up with X,Y,or Z to fix that problem." Natural inventors see the problem and come up with their own solution. And it's most likely not a talent they learned, but a trait inherent in their personality.

Back to the world of writing, unless you're writing a historical novel or a book with a specific style, you must include products and speech styles that the majority of the population uses. Otherwise, your work will sound stodgy and out-of-date. I'd written my entire first novel before realizing that no one in the story ever uses a cell phone. How likely is that? And Gwyn found herself in more than one situation where a cell phone would have been handy. Readers would have definitely noticed the absence and questioned it. And once readers start to question a plot point, the entire book is up for scrutiny. So I went back through the book and gave Gwyn a cell. Now she just needs an i-Pad. And I need to read the paper and surf the web with an eye toward what's on everyone's mind so I can ensure my writing reflects real life. Because if people can't immerse themselves in my book, then I haven't done my job as a writer.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 10:31 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
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