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“Does Anybody In The Group Know…?”

by Dr. Richard Mabry

Writers do research. It’s part of the process. We don’t want to write about a car going west on Commerce Street in Dallas when the street is one-way eastbound. So we are careful to check those things out. And when we don’t, believe me, there are readers out there who will let us know about our errors.

I cringe when I see writers ask questions on a writer’s loop such as, “Does anyone know how the Internal Revenue Service would treat a widow whose husband didn’t file tax returns for ten years?” Or “Does anyone know what a lawyer would charge to probate a will?” These are valid questions, but the answers shouldn’t come from the experience of Aunt Nell or a second cousin twice removed who had a situation sort of like that. The answer to the questions I’ve posed should come from a phone call, or even a visit, to the local Internal Revenue Office and an attorney in the area where the book is set.

What? You don’t know anyone at the IRS? Besides, not only don’t you know an attorney, you’re afraid of them? You may be surprised at the cooperation you get. The magic phrase, in my experience, has been, “I’m a writer, doing a book about…” followed by your question. Just as we think doctors and lawyers are in some way special, most people consider writers a different breed and are flattered to be asked.

Because I’m a physician, writers frequently ask me medical questions for their work-in-progress. I’m happy to respond to the best of my ability, but I also try to show them how they can do this research for themselves. If they want to Google the question, beware of sites with a personal or economic axe to grind. (There are plenty of them out there). It’s generally safe, however, to stick with sites having “.gov” or “.edu” or “.org” at the end of their address. Oh, and don’t forget that medical schools and many large hospitals have a public information office that will give you information. It’s their job, and they generally do it well.

It’s not wrong to ask others for help. But, as my mother used to tell me, “consider the source.” As I recall, the Bible tells us that when the blind lead the blind, they can both end up in a ditch. Think about that when you’re tempted to take the easy way out by “just asking around,” instead of seeking authoritative information. You’ll be glad you did.

Dr. Richard Mabry is the author of four published novels of medical suspense, including Medical Error, a finalist for this year’s Carol Award of the ACFW, and, Diagnosis Death, an RT Book Reviews finalist for Best Inspirational Thriller of 2011. His latest release is Lethal Remedy. You can learn more about him at http://rmabry.com.

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5 Responses to “Does Anybody In The Group Know…?”

  1. Mark Young says:

    Research can be fun, particularly if it takes you out of the office and into the real world. My first novel dealt with the Nez Perce Indian nation in Idaho. I was surprised at how willing people shared their experiences and knowledge about that culture with me once I expressed an interest. One person led me to another source, and so forth.

    An added benefit is that these personal experiences help create a greater sense of reality in your fiction.

  2. This was meant to be an encouragement for writers to strive for accuracy in their work. Goodness knows, I’ve made enough mistakes in my writing without accepting potential errors in the form of information given me from non-authoritative sources.

    Hope the message helps some of my fellow writers out there.

  3. I’m totally guilty of this! And I’ve suffered the consequences, because once that book is contracted, these things are looked into again. I had to rewrite two major scenes because I got my information from a source who didn’t totally know what she was talking about.

  4. Horton Prather says:

    Doing the research can be one of the best parts or writing. Learning about and experiencing new things makes you a better writer and person. My novel is set in Honduras, so I did a lot of online research, but traveling there and experiencing the country really made a huge difference.

  5. Iola says:

    Please, authors. Richard is right.

    Don’t forget to research. Nothing turns me off a book faster than incorrect ‘facts’.