Writing and research

Writing has to be real, no matter how simple a scene may be. You can’t have a lawyer character hopping over the judge’s desk and throwing a hissy fit without serious repercussions. To have your lawyer character dust off his Armani suit while raking his fingers through his gently tussled hair will bring howls of protest to knowledgeable readers. If you’re going to write something you haven’t experienced, no matter how inconsequential the scene, then you need to research it.

I know what you’re thinking; “Yabut, it’s a weency scene, so who cares?” You should care because if you don’t get it right and a reader catches you on it, they may not trust you with the rest of your book. I’ve busted writers on any number of issues, and that was pretty much it for me. I lost faith. If they couldn’t take the time to find the particulars on performing a Catholic communion, then what else did they blow?

I’m a real one for research. My first book had doc readers wondering what kind of MD I was…hah. My second book [which sits unfinished] had me chasing off to the Peruvian Amazon with a medical team for 17 bug-filled days. I’ve heard writers say that research takes time away from writing their stories. Hellooo…it also takes away from the realism of their stories.

If you can taste it, smell it, touch it, and feel it, you can write about it and include every tactile sense that sucks in the reader. And you should be your story to some extent because it’s the emotional bridge to sucking your reader in with your realism.

So to that end, if anyone is writing about a major car accident, I can attest that all the things they talk about are true. It’s ten times worse if you’re the one driving. I can see every horrific spin and turn of our car as it screeched its way through three lanes of traffic toward the center divider. It’s amazing the emotions that flash through the brain in a matter of seconds – which feels like centuries.

Pissed off: My brain flashed at the indignity of being shoved out of my own lane, screaming a mental WTF, asshat? I remember honking desperately so he’d get back in his lane. He kept right on coming, like we were invisible.

Anger: how the fuck could he do this to us? Wake up! You’re about to kill us!

Blame: what the hell was I thinking? I’d been watching this idiot weave in and out of his lane for several miles, so why did I try to pass him in the middle lane? Why didn’t I move over to the slow lane? I over-correctied as we careened into the slow lane to avoid the car. I never remember a blowout, but I do remember thinking that I shouldn’t be losing control, so what the hell is happening?

Resolution: The most terrifying part of the accident. I knew I couldn’t get the car back under control, and that death or injury is just milliseconds away. I was powerless to fix it, so I turned the steering wheel into the spin and  looked at my precious hubby and told him I’m so sorry.

Bracing for impact: I remember skidding across three lanes of traffic sideways, hitting the divider the first time, doing a 360 spin to hit it a second and final time, all while praying this wouldn’t hurt too much. As we spun, I never felt more fully entrenched in this body, this life. A corner of my brain flashed out a text message to the Cosmic Muffin; “not yet, dude. You’re gonna have to wait for us.”

Disbelief: I don’t remember the airbags exploding, but I do remember the surreality of it all. These things happen to others; not us. The Hubby was out of the car in seconds after making sure I was ok. I took my time and sat behind an exploded airbag to assess just how badly I might be hurt. Side of face numb. That could be good or bad. Right arm swelling gloriously. It’s on the muscle, that’s ok. I wiggled my feet and legs; no pain. This is good. Good holy god, I think we’re ok. Our car – bless its strong little soul – wasn’t so lucky. We’ll never see it again. It did its job and kept us alive.

We’re a statistic: How many times have we made this trip across the desert and seen the usual accident on the road, which creates a massive road jam? I felt like telling all those drivers how sorry I was to be adding extra time to their trips back home. Stupid worry in retrospect, but my brain was on autopilot, recording every scene and thought.

Aftermath: The hardest part of any major accident. You play the scene over and over in your head, trying to see if there is anyting you could have done differently. Doubt. Questioning whether you’re fit to breathe air. Abject fear that you could have killed the most precious person in your life.

Grateful: Oddly enough, I’m not there yet. It just happened yesterday, so maybe I need more time. Since I was driving, I haven’t granted myself any gifts of “gee, it could have been worse.” Sure, I know this cerebrally, but I’m still pointing a finger at my attendance at the disaster. I should be grateful that the only injuries we have will heal in a couple weeks, but I’m still too mortified this happened at all.

I never saw my life flash before my eyes. Thank god. How cliche would that have been? The guy who caused the accident never stopped. In fact, no one did, except for one kind soul who was too far back to be a witness. The cop was great. The meat wagon fellows were great and allowed me to shoo them away. The tow driver was great. We rented a car and The Hubby drove home. Seeing our kids was hard; they were so frightened at the idea they could have become orphans within seconds. My parents were equally horrified. Mother’s Day is a time of celebration and laughter, and I know how much this scared everyone. Not just us.

So if you’re going to write about a car accident from the drivers’ POV, please don’t do some hands on research. Feel free to use mine.

And be careful out there.

An addendum to this:
We just heard back from the adjuster. The car is, of course, totaled. We knew that already. The cause was a tire blowout, more than likely aggravated by the SUV veering into my lane. There’s nothing I could have done to save us since it was completely out of my hands. Interestingly enough, there is a rather big consumer complaint site regarding our tire make and model. Chief complaint? Sidewall blowouts. I’m vacillating between being numb at the thought of thousands of those tires being put on thousands of cars and horror that we could have been killed over a known malfunction.

18 Responses to Writing and research

  1. Craven says:

    Are you okay? From experience I know nerves can sneak up on you long after the event.

  2. lynnpricewrites says:

    I’m just taking one day at a time, knowing well that my state of mind could go south later. I’m fine for now; sore, swollen. Totally bummed that I look like a gang of rabid marsupials jumped me since I have a speaking engagement this weekend.

  3. Kate says:

    How horrible for you Lyn. I was in a crash myself just before Chrismas and I can relate to all of those!! I do hope you are all feeling better soon.

  4. Jean says:

    Damn, girl…that’s a helluva way to end a beautiful vacation! Hope the delayed aftershock is minimal.

  5. CaoPaux says:

    Yipe! Very glad to hear you’re both (relatively) okay. Hang in there.

  6. Sarah says:

    Good grief! Glad to hear you’re safe. Take care these next few days…

  7. vade55 says:

    I’m glad no one was seriously injured in the accident. Hope you feel better soon.


  8. Terese says:

    Lynn, I hope you and your husband heal from this soon.

    As a lesson in writing what we know, I can say this: You put me in the car with you. I saw it all and felt the hits. It was terrifying.

    I am just so sorry this was the experience you had to share to teach us something.

  9. Allen Parker says:

    Good wishes and prayers for a fast healing.

    As for the bumps and bruises as you approach the speaking engagement, tell them a rabid author didn’t like your rejection. Mention he got the worst end of the deal. That ought to start a few conversations around the punch bowl later. It might also keep your audience riveted to their seats during your talk.

  10. michael says:

    For eighteen years I’ve been a firefighter. In that time eight people had the misfortune of having my face be their last vision in this existance. (we remember every one, vividly, in case you believed the myth we’re “hardened.”)

    It’s been years since my last fatality. God, I love airbags!

    Get well, Lynn, and enjoy every moment.

  11. lynnpricewrites says:

    God, Michael, sobering statement. I could never do your job. Drawing metaphorical blood is as close as I intend on getting, thankyouverymuch. But bless you and those like you who rescue the likes of us.

  12. Nicola Morgan says:

    Lynn – that was very vivid to me, partly because you wrote it brilliantly and partly because it is incredibly similar to something that happened to us a few weeks ago, except that my husband was driving that time. And it’s what it does to your mind afterwards that is the hardest to deal with. All those “what ifs”. Thank GOODNESS you’re ok. Take care and go easy on yourself for a while. Nxx

  13. lynnpricewrites says:

    Yikes, Nicola, I know we have lots in common, but really,dear, this is too much! The doc sez stay quiet and heal. No problemo. I’m moving like a 180 y/o woman with bad knees and a back problem. The shiner on my chin should be lovely for my talk this weekend. Hope you and hubby healed quickly.

  14. I’d like to add shock and denial to your car crash scenario. When I had my first accident after leaving work late at night, I was clipped and spun 360 and ended up beside a concrete wall. After I went through much of what you describe, I drove home (in a vehicle that was later written off), got ready to go out to an important event with my husband and was putting on my lipstick before the shock wore off. For a minute I sat there in denial that it had even happened. When we went out to the garage I finally told my husband what had happened.

    Regarding researching for writing, I totally agree. You’ll often hear it said, “Write what you know.” Some think this means only that, but the second part of the equation is “if you don’t know it, research it until you do.”

    In my thriller The River I set the story in a remote and mysterious area that many call the “Bermuda Triangle of Canada”. The Nahanni River is in the NWTs and you have to fly in and then canoe or raft. Since I wasn’t able to physically take the trip, I emailed the owner of Nahanni River Adventures. Many emails were exchanged, including one where I asked him to describe the feel of the tufa mounds on bare feet and the smell. They even sent me their guides’ cookbook and I used some of the recipes in the novel. If you can’t visit the area, find someone who has.

    For the nanotechnology plot, I connected with some scientists who’d written papers and studied nanotechnology. It was a lot of heavy reading but it was worth it. It’s one thing to have a “what if” story; it’s another to have an “is this happening” plot.

    Cheryl Kaye Tardif,
    author of The River

  15. I’ve been there too, only the police said the blame was 50-50, although I disagree., The other silly woman didn’t check before pulling out in front of me.

    It wasn’t so much the injuries-whiplash and cracked ribs but the fact that in the weeks afterwards every time I closed my eyes I kept seeing the impact over and over again. (That passed, thank the Lord.)

    Take it easy, take it steady. And I agree, the writing is absolutely brilliant but that’s not important really. You are.

  16. Lynn,

    I just heard about your accident last night, after returning from an event at the Ventura County Writers Club. So sorry for you and your husband. What a way to end a vacation, although I am so happy to hear that neither one of you had to be hospitalized.

    Was the guy drunk? The way you described his driving sounded like he might have been.

    I’m sad you had to cancel the event. I was looking forward to hearing your presentation, but know that you need to take care of yourself and heal.

    Please get well and strong and I am impressed that you were able to rent a car and get back home right after something so traumatic.

  17. lynnpricewrites says:

    Thanks, Gutsy. I have no idea about the other guy; he never stopped, even though he would have had to be brain dead (or probably drunk) not to know he’d caused a major accident. Probably why he didn’t stop.

    No worries about the speaking gig. I’ve been rescheduled for July, so I hope you’re in town.

  18. Jane Smith says:

    Lynn, I’ve only just seen this. Good grief, you’re brave. Get well soon, and give yourself more time than you think you need. I shall be checking up on you!

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