By Sharon Woods Hopkins
As a fiction writer I’ve always heard you should “write what you know.” If your protagonist is a rocket scientist, it’s helpful if you have some background in science. If your story revolves around a car dealership, having been a car salesman comes in mighty handy.
But what about writing about what you think you know?
I once read a novel by a best-selling author whose protagonist was on a commercial airliner, and in the thick of the excitement, referred to the area where the food is prepared as “the kitchen.” Zap. Out of the story I flew. It’s not a kitchen, it’s a galley.
Another author friend’s protagonist was an expert horsewoman, but she left her horse in the pasture with its bridle. Nope. Probably not. What she likely left on the horse was its halter. A bridle has a bit and reins and a real horse person would never leave that on a loose horse.
And then there was the author whose antagonist tried to kill his victim by leaving the new Mercedes running in the garage. The protagonist got there in the nick of time. However, unless someone disabled the catalytic converter, or it had a broken exhaust pipe out of the manifold, the car would have run out of gas before ever discharging enough carbon monoxide to give anyone a headache, much less cause a death. I know this because one time I tried hooking up my 1994 truck’s tailpipe to a hose and stuffing it down a mole hole. After running the truck for nearly an hour, the mole was not even dizzy. I learned about the catalytic converter in great detail from my mechanic son after that little stunt.
And how about those Styrofoam cups?
There is no such thing as a Styrofoam cup. This is a really common mistake that most of the world makes, but an author could possibly get a “cease and desist” order from Dow chemicals if he or she uses it in their next best seller. Dow Chemicals is very specific about what Styrofoam is, and is not, on their website.
Being vulnerable is human, and we all make mistakes. However, if you’re writing what you think you know, it’s very helpful to have sharp editors. I was astounded by seeing the aforementioned mistakes show up in the finished product. How to protect yourself? Be sure you have dependable early readers, or pay to have a good copy and developmental editor read your manuscript. Unfortunately for us writers, most publishers today have thinned out the editorial staff, leaving only proof readers. Be diligent, and make sure you know what you think you know.
Sharon Woods Hopkins is a member of the Thriller Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, the Southeast Missouri Writers' Guild, Heartland Writers Guild, Romance Writers of America, and the Missouri Writers' Guild. She has tried retiring, but can’t seem to succeed. After many years as a mortgage banker, she is currently a Real Estate Broker. Sharon lives on the family compound near Marble Hill, Missouri with her husband, author Bill Hopkins, next door to her son, Jeff, his wife, Wendy, two rescue Yorkies and a mole killing cat named Wilhelmena, and assorted second generation Camaros, including the 1979 Camaro named Cami who is featured in her books. Her Rhetta McCarter mystery series have won numerous awards, including the prestigious Missouri Writers Guild Show-me Best Book Award for Killerfind, in 2014. Her social media links are www.deadlyduo.net or on Facebook and on Twitter as @sharonwhopkins Killerwatt, the first book in the Rhetta McCarter Mystery series is now Free on Kindle.http://tinyurl.com/KILLERWATT-FREE-for-KINDLE