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Thread: Resources for creating characters outside your wheelhouse?

  1. #1
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Resources for creating characters outside your wheelhouse?

    Sorry if this is an easy question. I do most of my research while on the job (my job is 90% waiting, that's how I fill the time) so when I get home I can focus on writing. This makes it sometimes difficult to google even the most basic things.

    Anyways, my last novel included characters that were law enforcement and a psychologist. The only thing I know about either is what I can learn on the internet and other media forms. But I still feel inadequate when I read/view something by someone who has the inside track (i.e. Like Grisham writing a legal thriller).

    The novel I am working on now...a detective worked his way in. I originally just wanted two POVs, two civilians, to avoid this conflict I feel. On top of that, this new POV could be very important, and I don't want to "water it down" as I did in my last book.

    Does anyone have specific resources they go to for crime or medical writing? Even more important, for character building?

    How about for hacking and spy subjects?

    If I ever get the chance for writing to be more than just a hobby, I would love to spend days researching all of it. But as someone who works overtime every week, any help would be appreciated.

  2. #2
    Banned for Trolling
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    The way I see it--three possibilities:
    1. Find a pro and use him/her
    2. Take relevant courses
    3. Learn from writers who manage to use police POV while omitting anything beyond the TV drama level, for example James Patterson.

  3. #3
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Thanks, you gave me an idea. I'll write it and then see if someone can go over those parts and juice it up.

  4. #4
    practical experience, FTW
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    I do not know if you will be angry or pleased by my answer, but I will knock it out here because I feel it makes sence. John Gresham was/is a Lawyer, a Politician, and an activist. He wrote about things in his daily life. A lot of new writers do not understand that having some real life experience in the "genre" you are choosing is important for veracity and the ring of truth.

    I know you have said you work long hours, and that you have to do this at work. Maybe get another job?

  5. #5
    Benefactor Member WeaselFire's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JCornelius View Post
    The way I see it--three possibilities:
    1. Find a pro and use him/her
    2. Take relevant courses
    3. Learn from writers who manage to use police POV while omitting anything beyond the TV drama level, for example James Patterson.
    You forgot:

    4) Move your wheelhouse.

    Jeff

  6. #6
    --------- P-Baker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by llcmac View Post
    The novel I am working on now...a detective worked his way in. I originally just wanted two POVs, two civilians, to avoid this conflict I feel. On top of that, this new POV could be very important, and I don't want to "water it down" as I did in my last book.
    As has been pointed out, real life experience in your genre is vital if you want to write a gritty, realistic book. Perhaps shifting to a cozy mystery would suit you better until you're able to get some hands on experience?

    Quote Originally Posted by llcmac
    Even more important, for character building?
    I suggest people check to see if their favorite authors have blogs and review all the posts, looking for "how I work" articles. Basic sites such as writersdigest.com or writers.ie have scores of articles that should be useful.

    Quote Originally Posted by llcmac
    How about for hacking and spy subjects?

    If I ever get the chance for writing to be more than just a hobby, I would love to spend days researching all of it. But as someone who works overtime every week, any help would be appreciated.
    These are both very technical subjects, and online research isn't going to produce a book for publication. If, on the other hand, you want to write for your own pleasure or as an exercise, you could do worse than visiting the CIA and browse their library or visit MI5 and look through their espionage pages. Going for the obvious source is often a good and fun way to get basic information.

  7. #7
    professional dilettante Lakey's Avatar
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    Do you know anyone who works in the fields you want to research? Any friends of friends you could reach out to? Maybe a correspondence with someone will help you with both technical details and characterizations.

    You might have to spend some of your nonwork time researching - I know this is hard; I really feel your pain on this one. I also have a very demanding day job and have very little time or energy left over for working on my book. But I HAVE to spend time on research, and so even when I do have time or energy I cannot necessarily spend it on the actual writing. So whatever approach you take, you might have to loosen up on not saving all your nonwork time for writing itself, and invest some time in research to get the story you want to get.

  8. #8
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Thanks everyone, I think I have a good idea now.

    I think reading stuff by people in the field I am trying to learn will help too.

  9. #9
    Have pen, will travel Cindyt's Avatar
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    I have the same problems with my crime thriller. This is what I'm doing:

    1. The ABC agency is fictional, based on the nonfiction books I've read about the DEA and FBI
    2. I poured over amazon until I found the best book about undercover work, and will use that agent as a guide for mine, when he's working.

    I did try the DEA and the FBI. They didn't ignore me, but they gave me that line about "a need to know." It wasn't like I was asking for covert info.
    The only thing you can't fix is a blank page.--Bonnie Hearn Hill

    Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. Matthew 7:12

  10. #10
    Keeper of Fort Blanket L.C. Blackwell's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by llcmac View Post
    How about for hacking and spy subjects?
    For one thing, you need to stop thinking of the internet as the source of all research. Depending on what historical period you want to use, there are more published books on the history of the KGB and CIA than you can ever swallow. Many of these were written by men who worked for those agencies, or defected from them.

    Pick up some of the best known and best reviewed. Then, learn to use bibliographies in the backs of these books. They mean something. They are the key to primary and secondary sources that may be barely referenced in the book you are reading, but contain a mine of information if you look at them yourself. Get tangential. Trace stories from one book to the next. Remember that every author has an angle. Many have an axe to grind. Compare sources and decide for yourself.

    Interlibrary loan is your friend. If you can't read at work, give up some writing time two or three days a week to research. It's worth it. You'll go slower, but you'll have more to go on.

    That said: it is possible to make yourself very expert in a field not your own, but it is intensely time-consuming, and you may not have that kind of time right now. You can take one of two approaches: don't worry about getting the facts right, but lose credibility with readers who know more than you do; or, choose a less demanding setting for your novel.

    I go heavy on the research, but my writing pace seriously resembles the tortoise who gets there eventually, while the hare sold his fourth novel.


  11. #11
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    I'm up for suggestions on books to read. The little research I've done so far, there is a lot of stuff out there that is incorrect, it's just been used forever. I need to find writers that have experience in the field, or have done a lot of research.

  12. #12
    Keeper of Fort Blanket L.C. Blackwell's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by llcmac View Post
    I'm up for suggestions on books to read. The little research I've done so far, there is a lot of stuff out there that is incorrect, it's just been used forever. I need to find writers that have experience in the field, or have done a lot of research.
    I thought you were going to ask that. You are right, there is an enormous amount of misinformation on the subject, and not every first hand account is reliable. What you may find useful depends largely on the setting in which you choose to play. The 1970s and 80s, which I used for the book I'm querying now, have one of the largest shares in the literature. I can't tell you how the modern FSB operates, for example, other than to say they are still occasionally caught using old-school KGB tactics. Computer espionage has gone ahead wildly, and while you can piece together a few things using current news articles, and probably a few more from unclassified reports by government contractors, etc., the bulk of operating procedures remain classified for good reason. Two things that don't change, though, are bureaucracy and human nature. So you can be fairly sure that people are still acting the same way they always have. Not following instructions, improperly cutting corners....

    The list I'm going to give you is drawn from the old 70s/80s period, which was my own focus, and these are books I have, and have read.

    Comrade Kryuchkov's Instructions: Top Secret Files of KGB Foreign Operations, 1975-1985
    . Christopher Andrew and Oleg Gordievsky. (This is a must if you want to do the KGB in the 80s, by the way. It is practically an operating manual for KGB case officers.)

    The FBI: A Comprehensive Reference. Theoharis, Poveda, Rosenfeld, etc.

    The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive. Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin.

    On the Wrong Side. Stanislav Levchenko.

    Spy Handler. Victor Cherkashin with Gregory Feifer.

    The Main Enemy. Milt Bearden and James Risen.

    Inside the KGB. Vladimir Kuzichkin.

    Confessions of a Spy. Pete Earley.

    Breaking with Moscow. Arkady Shevchenko.

    KGB Today. John Barron.

    The First Directorate. Oleg Kalugin.

    This is just a starter list, by the way. I've drawn from books on Soviet culture, Russian cooking, Moscow urban planning, criminal issues in Russian society.... All the tangents play into the main idea.

    Hope this helps!
    Last edited by L.C. Blackwell; 06-22-2017 at 08:22 AM.

  13. #13
    Keeper of Fort Blanket L.C. Blackwell's Avatar
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    Oh, and if you are doing anything with Russian characters, read this first.

    The 33 Worst Mistakes Writers Make About Russia.

    The author is a member here. She is Russian and a journalist, and her book is worth buying, reading and memorizing.

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