A problem I often encounter in novels, whether writing or editing them, is great ideas that don’t work logistically.
Readers are good at spotting bloopers, and once they’ve found one, they usually don’t trust the author for the rest of the novel. They might even stop reading or pan the book in a review. So it pays to do your homework early in the writing process. That avoids future embarrassment and prevents having to rewrite a completed manuscript around a technical error.
If your character does something that you personally don’t know how to do—drive a semi rig, play the trombone, fly an airplane, shoot a gun, knit a sweater—then talk to someone who does have that skill, or have them vet what you’ve written. Ideally, do it before or right after you’ve composed the first draft.
Checking every scene for accuracy is a good way to cool down from creative passion. While the story is still fresh in your mind, you can more easily solve problems you uncover before they’re found by beta readers or professional editors. It also helps you switch to the analytical mode needed for revision in general.
Be particularly wary of logistics in the opening chapter. It’s best to get them squared away before writing the rest of the story so you can build on a solid foundation.
The same applies to setting. If you haven’t been to Bali or Rome or Alaska, research the place and culture first. With the amazing online resources now available, you can get photos and personal travel logs as well as data, reducing or eliminating the need to experience a place firsthand. Experience is always best, but we can’t all go globetrotting to support our ideas. And shouldn’t be constrained by writing only what we know.
The one benefit of discovering a blooper when you think the book is finished is that you can be pushed to new heights of creativity in solving a problem that trashes the story. While that’s psychologically invigorating and gives a special sense of accomplishment, it also wastes time. I’m sure we can agree that time is better spent in building rather than damage control.
Soaring imagination makes for the best stories. By keeping your characters’ feet credibly on the ground in whatever world they occupy gives readers the best story for their dollars and invites them back for more.
Caroline Hiley is an author and editor who knows the creative process from both sides and understands how editing can help or hinder.