Say it with me: verisimilitude!
What a beautiful word. One of the big responsibilities we have as writers is to do as much as we can to breathe reality into our inherently fictional worlds. Fiction writers must keep the reader enthralled by the spells we cast on the page; nonfiction writers have an even greater need to maintain the reader’s trust that everything they say is true.
The problem? “Write what you know” only goes so far. If every writer stuck to that mantra literally, we would have no science fiction. I don’t want to live in that world. From time to time, we must exceed the limits of our expertise and must do so in ways that don’t out us as inexpert in the milieu of the story.
Mystery and crime fiction are packed with potential pitfalls. Most of us writers who compose in the genre aren’t police officers or authorities in ballistics. The overwhelming majority of us have never committed the kinds of crimes we write about. How can we write about stabbings and detectives and shootings without sounding like big phonies?
If you read Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, you already know some of the answers. If you don’t, get thee to their web site. You can also order single issues or subscriptions for Nook. (And for Kobo and Kindle.) One of the regular columns in EQMM is Bill Crider’s “Blog Bytes.” Each month, he tells you about worthwhile blogs in the crime/mystery field. (While you’re at it, check out Mr. Crider’s web site and his works.) The February issue features two links that are of particular interest to writers.
BJ Bourg is responsible for Righting Crime Fiction, a very detailed blog in which he tells you how to write about police procedures and firearms with verisimilitude. This is a necessity for folks like me who respect the power of guns, but don’t have any around. Mr. Bourg is a gentleman after my own heart; he will sometimes illustrate his points with examples from his own work.
Do you know the difference between an automatic and semi-automatic pistol? Do you know what that thingy at the back of a revolver is called and how it functions? Do you know the most efficient and safest way to load a revolver? I know I don’t. Mr. Bourg is also kind enough to include videos that show you what proper gun operation looks like.
Mr. Crider also tells us about Law and Fiction, a blog that is written by lawyer Leslie Ann Budewitz. Ms. Budewitz is also a crime fiction writer and author of the award-winning book Books, Crooks and Counselors, a tome dedicated to informing writers about the way the law really works. She’s trying to help you with the whole verisimilitude thing, friends.
The Law and Fiction blog is dedicated to educating you about the law and how it may apply to your characters. She is also kind enough to suggest possible subplots for you. You never know; you may read her blog and hear your Muse whisper in your ear. Ms. Budewitz seems like a very good egg. She likes puns and spends a lot of time helping other writers. (Hey! Like me!)