Be careful what you ask for

So, there are upsides to living with, and being friends with, a pool of subject matter experts. The more interesting friends you make, the more you can take someone, sing “How’s that work?” and “So, what’s your opinion on that?” and “Hmm?” and enjoy the infodump of a person in full cry about their passion or profession.

There are also downsides. Like, there’s no excuse not to get something right. And possibly getting way in over your head on detail on something that was originally supposed to be scene setting.

Also, detail when you’re not ready for it. In mass quantities. Or subject matter experts who really want you to put their favourite opinion/item/concept/interaction in there, because they love it, no matter whether it fits the plot or not.

It’s been a long and trying week at work. I have barely written anything, and most of that was transcribing what I wrote last weekend longhand in a hotel lobby. (It turned into a full chapter by the time I finished fleshing it out and unpacking it.) But I’m getting to the point where I need to do an assault on a terrorist base.

The universe, you see, is laughing at me. I did not set out to write military scifi here. I set out to write a sarcastic meta-commentary on military romance books with actual competent people. Unfortunately, competent people are competent, and competent villains are actual threats needing military response, and before you know it, here I am trying to write military operations. Eep. As a retired army officer I know and love would say, “This is a learning experience.”

By the time I survive it, I will have learned a lot more about writing.

So I consulted a subject matter expert on military combat on what I’d need to think about in order to start fleshing out this whole section.

Okay, yes, I flopped down on the couch, blew out a breath, and said, “Love? When you have some free time…” (I know, not everyone is so lucky as to have married a combat vet. But I did, so I get this research free.)

The next day, I came home from work, and the light of my life, the man who keeps telling me “Calm down! It’s a good day; no one’s shooting at you!” meets me at the door with a hug, a kiss, a cuppa, and an excited look. “So, I’ve been thinking about what you asked me! Sit, sit, do you have your notepad?”

A page and a half of extremely condensed bullet points and shorthand notes later, I had the understanding of the rough timeline this would take, and the sinking realization that this wasn’t a single scene, this was an entire plot arc that covered the entire middle of the book and segued neatly into the climax, slotting perfectly into the other major plot arc in the book… (yay) This might be 8 chapters by itself, or more (uh…. I don’t think that’s yay. I wasn’t expecting it to be that long of a story.)

And he finishes it with “But I’m not an expert. For a much better set of eyes, ask Mutual Friend.”

*sinal salute*

Well, about three days later, I see Mutual Friend at the club where we both weightlift, and wander over between sets. When I tell him that Calmer Half recommended him for research, he muttered something uncomplimentary. I hastened to assure him that I was still trying to flesh out the setting and the basic details needed, so this was just a heads-up about a week or two out. He was mollified by that, I thought…

Tonight, after dinner at a meeting of the North Texas Writers, Shooters, and Pilots’ Association, I was happily digesting and eyeing the last bit of rum cake… when Mutual Friend piped up. “So, you’re supposed to be asking me about conducting reconnaissance and raids on terrorists! You’re going to become very familiar with the following terminology…”

Apparently, a week or two wasn’t in the cards. I pulled the trigger on his brain, and it was ready to unload. Sometimes, I’ve just got to take the help I get when the expert wants to give it!

And realize this ain’t no short story. It’s not a novelette, either. It’s going to be a full-blown novel by the time I get it technically correct.

I love my friends. I’m still going to pour a stiff drink before tackling all the unexpected windfall of help.

12 thoughts on “Be careful what you ask for

  1. A few years back an author I was then working with asked me a simple question as input for a short story they had been asked to contribute to an anthology. “If someone wanted to destroy the ISS how would they go about it?”
    Gave it some thought and next day handed her a baker’s dozen list of possibilities. They were rather shocked even though they had at one time worked in the space business too. Thing was, I spent better part of 25 years involved in Shuttle and ISS hardware and crew training along with a period working directly with our Russian partners and their MIR station and Soyuz transport vehicle.
    After a bit of discussion one of my methods was incorporated into the story, based on its believability and because it required actions by a malicious astronaut so could never be exploited by an external force.

  2. Oral history research is like that (BTDT). One difficulty for historians is trying to gently steer people in the direction of the desired research. If you want local flavor, history, and “how life was,” letting people wander is great. If you want “How did X federal project change the area?” Well, be careful. And be patient. And be ready to listen to recordings several times to pull out what you need (depending on the local expert/oral history source).

  3. My (step) dad was a commercial pilot. Before that, he was an electrician (as, with a professional license). Along the way, he had picked up carpentry and at least enough plumbing to be able to build bathrooms.
    He LOVED flying; but, he loved learning and teaching above all.
    As a teen and young adult, I HATED it. He, himself, described this as “ask me what time it is, I tell you how to build a clock.” As a grandfather? Wish I could listen to him again.

    However, the BEST teaching is done by demonstrating the techniques; I could have learned more about joining crown molding if he had been standing beside me with tools and materials.
    Therefore, since I happen to know that among your circle are quite a number of people with Experience In Things, why not take over (temporarily) a small unimportant location on a map? Think of all you would learn!

    1. > HATED it

      I try not to be like that. But… “if you want a specific answer, you need to ask a specific question.”

      A: “Hey, TRX probably knows XXX, let’s ask him!”

      B: [grabs A’s shirt] “No. Just no. Trust me on this.”

  4. And, of course, none of us other writers will devour your book as research on the techniques of correctly taking out a terrorist base. We devour for the story. We re-read carefully, taking notes, for research.

  5. Don’t push the buttons til ready to write! Got it. That is so funny to me. God bless, boldly go and all that. It is only (maybe) 8 chapters. Fear not and fake some hand wavium at it. billd

    On Sun, Jan 10, 2021 at 12:01 AM Mad Genius Club wrote:

    > Dorothy Grant posted: “So, there are upsides to living with, and being > friends with, a pool of subject matter experts. The more interesting > friends you make, the more you can take someone, sing “How’s that work?” > and “So, what’s your opinion on that?” and “Hmm?” and enjoy the i” >

    1. …yes?
      The main character was a team member (but not protagonist) in the last one. Completely different focus, different fields, but same world, same politics.

  6. Hehehe, YOU made the mistake of asking the question. You should have known better from the last go round… But it’s better to be right than handwave stuff away. And I’m still waiting for the chapters I’m supposed to read… hint, hint…

    1. And you’re waiting for me to get back to you on the beta read you sent out, yes. The list of things I’m behind on grows yet again!

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