Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Devil in the Details

By: Maegan Beaumont

He rolled up the make-shift tarp he’d laid out on the kitchen floor and placed it in a trash bag along with the dress. Undiluted, he poured the ammonia onto the kitchen floor and chair. While ammonia didn’t destroy DNA, any evidence gathered there would be corrupted by the chemical and rendered useless. The ammonia was strong-smelling, so he opened a few windows for ventilation. The early afternoon breeze made the chore of cleaning up his mess almost pleasant.
—Carved in Darkness

It took me nearly three weeks to write this paragraph. It wasn't writers’ block or a computer crash that bogged me down—it was my almost obsessive need for accuracy.

And it wasn't just this passage I nitpicked. It was the entire novel. I scoured the internet. I read books. I logged onto forensic forums. I emailed cops and asked them what I’m sure they thought were inane and possibly dangerous questions. I spent what felt like an entire summer in handcuffs because I was trying to teach myself how to pick my way out of them. After cutting myself in a kitchen mishap, I soaked the wound in salt water (If you've read CARVED, then you understand the significance). I've even gone so far as to have a very distraught friend of mine drive me around in the trunk of her car... all so I could be sure that what I was writing was as close to the truth as I could get it. Don’t get me wrong, I ask my readers to suspend disbelief on a regular basis but I can do so because I know one simple rule: 
The most effective lies are found buried in the truth.  

So, yes... I do lie. I do make stuff up, I write fiction, after all... but readers are smart.  They know things, because they read, and they don’t like it when a writer is too lazy to do their research. I know this because as a reader, I feel exactly the same way. I don’t mind being lied to as long as I know the writer took the time and made the effort to make me believe the lie.

The key to great fiction isn't writing what you know--it's writing what you can make others believe that you know, and that takes work. Hours of research. Reading and reaching out to people who can lend authenticity to my writing, but when a reader asks me if I've ever tortured someone (yes, someone really asked me that... and the answer is no) or a reviewer mentions how impressive my attention to detail is, I know it's worth it.

So, my question is: How important is accuracy in writing to you? How do you feel about shoddy research? How do you feel about writers who don't take their research seriously?

"Prepare to be overwhelmed by the tension and moodiness that permeates this edgy thriller. Beaumont’s ability to keep the twists coming even when the answer seems obvious is quite potent."
 ~ Library Journal

Maegan Beaumont is the author of Carved in Darkness, book one in the Sabrina Vaughn thriller series, on sale now.


Anonymous said...

"Undiluted, he poured . . ," is not grammatically correct if you are referring to the ammonia and not the one pouring it!

Matsa said...

AnnK is clearly one of those people who look at Van Gogh's Starry Night and complains about his unorthodox use of color and texture.

Anonymous said...

Can't wait to read Annk's perfectly grammatically correct thriller! :)