Tag: Fiction

Fallen Friday: Thorny Theological Issues

Fallen Friday: Thorny Theological Issues

This isn’t a spoiler, since it’s on the cover, but my main character in Fallen is a fallen angel (like the title didn’t give it away, right?). As a result, I put a lot of work into considering how angels and demons work in the setting and how I want to address them. It took a lot of consideration because on one hand, I’m a Christian and want to do justice to my faith. On the other, this isn’t a Christian book series. Which will become apparent to you pretty quickly, and I am expecting some heat for the way I use angels. Just remember that this is fiction.

I did a fair amount of research on angels in the book of Enoch as well as in Kaballah and other sources before settling on which choirs exist in my setting and how they work. I still don’t have every single detail laid out, but the basic foundation is all present, and since my editor and some of my beta readers have been curious, I figured this was a good time and place to discuss exactly what I am doing! Also, some of this may be subject to some measure of change as I write the series, since it’s not all codified yet.

While studying, I learned there are multiple types of angels that are listed in various places, and I didn’t want to use all of them. Also, depending on which scholars you read, the hierarchy is different, and Jewish and Islamic folks use different names from Christians. I defaulted to using the Jewish names since it was as close to the source material as I could get and, being a history nerd, I like using the more authentic names rather than Anglicizing them. Also, there’s no Anglicized version of some of the types, so writing some in English and some in Hebrew and mashing them together didn’t appeal to me.

The angel types I went with are as follows, in descending order from most power to least powerful.

  • Seraphim
  • Cherubim
  • Ophanim
  • Erelim
  • Malakim
  • Ishim

The way I am using archangels is that it’s a position, not a separate species of angel altogether. I chose to go that route because there are only six of them (not counting those fallen like Lucifer), and it gave me the opportunity to work in their roles and their functions. Basically, I have it that the six archangels are more or less the top tier management who oversee the duties of those assigned to their purview. I’m not going to bore you with the exact details of what angels do what, and what each looks like when not adopting a human guise (though the ophanim are the wheels with eyes). I’m not writing an RPG, after all. At least not now. Though the idea has crossed my mind.

Demons are structured similarly to angels, though it’s far less organized because, by nature, they tend to be more chaotic and less likely to fall in line. I haven’t worked out all the various types yet and what I’d like to call them, but it’s more or less a broken mirror of heaven’s ranks.

However, for demons, an archdemon is a demon who was once an angel. There aren’t a ton of them, all things considered, and they tend to be excessively powerful. Their power, of course, does depend on what kind of angel they were when they fell. An archdemon who was once a seraph is obviously more potent than a demon who was a malak. I need to do a little more work on exactly who is what in Hell, but at this point in my novels the exact “structure” of Hell hasn’t been extremely important. All you need to know, for the most part is “demons bad.”

I also recognize that Islam has its own structure for angels, but I know nothing about the faith beyond the fact that it is similar in many respects to my own but distinct and different in many others. I don’t know enough about Islam to utilize their theology, and I don’t want to do them a disservice by trying. I know it’s present, and I respect it. However, as I say further on, the reason I chose my own religion to alter is because that’s what I know, and I don’t want to appropriate someone else’s.

Now for the parts that are likely to cheese people off because this is where my “this is FICTION” comment comes strongly into play.

The way I have the reality of God in this setting is that God is the creator deity. He is not the explicitly Abrahamic deity of Yahweh. The creator, which the angels just usually call “the Father” or “Father” is too big for any religion to understand and too big for human comprehension. While much of Fallen takes place in a Christian setting and dealing with Christian people (this is largely stemming from me writing what I know), the angels are servants of the creator, not the church, and as such they aren’t innately Christian, themselves. My main character would be just as comfortable in a Jewish temple, a Mosque, or in a Buddhist temple as she is in a Christian church. Angels are just as likely to quote the Bible as they are to quote another religion’s scripture beause all of them are right, and all of them are wrong.

In addition to that, the polytheistic religions actually have some merit.

God created more than just angels and the races of the Earth. He also created the elohim (note: different from reference to God as Elohim. Capitalization matters here). Elohim, in Hebrew, is a plural word for “gods” or “deities.” While we could dig into Christian theology here, I really don’t want to because, as I said, my series isn’t a Christian book series explicitly. It’s urban fantasy with some Christian overtones not dissimilar to Dresden Files or Supernatural, which both deal with angels and demons but aren’t Christian fiction.

So what are the elohim?

In my setting, they are more powerful than the seraphim. They were God’s first, his eldest creations. Creatures who interacted with the elohim saw them as gods in their own right, and many of the elohim didn’t try and dissuade them of the notion. To human understanding, they are gods, though they derive their power through their connection to the divine source, the creator Himself.

(Also, to note, I refer to the creator as male, but the reality is the deity isn’t gendered. This is, again, a case of “write what you know,” so I’m most comfortable referring to the deity as male pronouns.)

The point of the religion in these books is this:

Everybody is right. Everybody is wrong.

So, then we come to the question of why use the Hebrew words for things if it’s not going to be Jewish/Christian?

Honestly, it’s because that’s what I’m most familiar with. I am Christian, myself, and studied Christianity and the history of the Bible in college (in a non-religious sense). While it’s feasible to use another religion’s words for the concepts and such in my books, I admit fully that I don’t know enough about them to do them justice, and I don’t want to appropriate another culture’s living faith systems for my fiction. I’m okay using my own. It’s my belief that my religion is big enough to handle some fiction using our words.

Further, creating and imposing an entirely new and different religion as the “true” religion and laying it over the real world with all its religious and historical complexities didn’t work for me. It would be incredibly complicated, and it would require an incredible amount of world building to accomplish properly. Which would then require me to alter my characters into unrecognizability almost, and I didn’t want to do that. As such, I decided to use the framework I know and alter it slightly.

Beyond that, the angels speak an entirely different language. They wouldn’t call themselves “seraphim” or “malakim”; they’d use the Enochian words for it. My main character uses those words for herself because she’s mostly interacting with Christian folks in the first book, and it’s the easiest way to explain it.

As to why I didn’t write this to be explicitly Christian and be done with it, it was a choice based on the fact that my theology in the story didn’t work as being Christian alone. While the first few books about Cassiel are explicitly about an angel’s experience in the world, some of the other ones are decidedly more terrestrial.

Just as a teaser, I have vague ideas for some other themes:

  • A licensed necromancer dealing with ghosts and the undead.
  • A former CIA operative who had to retire but is still doing her work. Vaguely reminiscent of a supernatural Burn Notice.
  • A few books dealing with vampire politics and ancient beings.

My husband also has some ideas kicking around for novels in the universe that he’d like to write. We’ve worked on this setting together for years, and there are some stories from some perspectives he’d like to tell.

The meta-plot for the series, well…I’ll leave that for you to piece together yourselves. But I promise there is one. All these threads tie together in various places. There is a method to my madness.

This time.

E. Prybylski has been in the publishing industry as an editor since 2009, starting at Divertir Publishing and eventually partnering with her close friend Richard Belanger to begin Insomnia Publishing.

Ever since childhood, E. has been an avid reader and writer of fantasy. The first chapter book she remembers reading is The Hobbit, followed swiftly by most of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series. In high school, she perfected the skill of walking while reading without slamming into anyone. Mostly.

When she isn’t reading or writing, E. is an active member of the Society for Creative Anachronism and has a B.A. in European history from SNHU. In addition to her many historical pursuits, E. is a musician of multiple instruments, a cat mom, and a loving wife to her husband, J. E. also speaks out for the disability and chronic illness communities being a sufferer of chronic migraines and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

Writing Effective Combat Scenes

Writing Effective Combat Scenes

My triumphant return commences today. I’m sorry I’ve been gone so long, but between my husband’s health and my health we had the snot kicked out of us the last week. The good news is my husband is recovering, and I’m just waiting for the weather to break so I can return to my normal activities.

A friend recently messaged me about writing a combat scene. She had three good guys and three bad guys all involved in a melee and was struggling with figuring out how to make it make sense. Writing a large combat scene is challenging, and writers often stumble with combat in general, so I thought it prudent to address the issue.

Let’s start with the basics of writing combat, shall we? This is a cross-genre reality, by the way. It doesn’t matter if your characters are using swords, fists, firearms, or futuristic laser weapons, these will apply.

1) Do not give a blow-by-blow.

I don’t need to know every single movement to understand what’s going on. Unless there’s a theatrical reason to show a specific aspect of a motion, don’t detail it. I’ll show you what I mean:

Jon lifted his hand, pulling it to his side and setting his weight before driving it into Paul’s face, stopping before he over-straightened his elbow so he didn’t hurt the joint.

Jon punched Paul in the face.

The difference between the two should be apparent. The first would work in, perhaps, a training scenario where the character is really analyzing every movement he’s making to study it. In that moment, the reader is focused on all those little details along with Jon. They’re part of the flow of narrative. In a real combat situation, however, we don’t stop to think about all those things. We just punch our enemy in the face. You can specify the location of the hit (the nose, the mouth, the gut, whatever) if it’s important, but don’t over-complicate each action. If you do it will lead to a thirty-second fight going on for fifteen pages, and the readers will have fallen asleep by then.

As a martial artist, I can tell you it’s tempting to give a full, rich description of every blow, but as a reader I know they won’t care about that unless you’re reaching a very specific segment of the population who enjoys that kind of thing. If those folks are your demographic then all the more power to you. In the real world (unlike the world of theatrical combat and cinema), fights are usually over in about thirty seconds for close quarters combat (knife, sword, open hand). And thirty seconds is actually a pretty long fight. Firearms confrontations can last longer with the addition of cover and movement, but at that point the emphasis is less on the shooting than it is on the hunting and tactics.

2) Focus on one set of combatants at a time.

Imagine you’re watching a wide-angle shot of field combat with no one as the “main character”. You just sit up in the clouds, watching a group skirmish. It’s chaotic, it’s hard to follow, and unless you’ve got the camera focused on a specific set of combatants you aren’t going to see a whole lot other than the general gist of the conflict. Much like with dialogue, if you have too many characters acting at once it becomes chaotic fast. If you have three good guys fighting three bad guys, and two sets of fighters are not the driving factors of the story—have them as background. You can comment that they are, in fact, fighting. You can even say when one of them wins or loses if it’s important. However, keep the camera on the main character(s). Whichever fight is the most important should be what’s on screen.

When you’re in a full melee, you can narrate things happening around the main character—and you should—but don’t lose your focus. To take an example from cinema, the photo below illustrates what I’m getting at. The medium is different, of course, but we should be doing the literary equivalent of this:


The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies,Copyright by Warner Bros. Entertainment


As you can see from this still shot of “The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies”, Bard (the man without the helmet whose face we see) is in the middle of a melee with a whole host of terrible, faceless orcs all dressed in almost the same armor. Visually, they did this to make sure he (the main character of this shot) stands out. You can have action happening all around the main character and their conflict, but their personal struggle should take center stage. We can see that there is other combat happening around and behind him, but he is the one our eyes are drawn to.

3) Do at least a cursory study of whatever art you’re portraying.

Yes, watching YouTube videos at 3am counts as cursory study. I cannot tell you how irksome it is to read a book where it is clear the author has never even held (or seen outside of cinematic use) the weapon their character is using. People forget to count the number of bullets their character’s gun carries until a crucial moment where they pull the trigger and click ! (As a side note, semi-automatics don’t do that!) While I by no means expect anyone to study and grow proficient in an art before writing about it, I recommend at least watching enough videos or reading enough information that you know these few things. If you have weapon-specific questions regarding firearms, swords, or open hand please feel free to drop me a line through a comment or send me an email. I’ll be happy to talk to you about it until you don’t want to hear about it anymore!

These quick studies are surprisingly important. Say I’m writing a medieval story, and I have no idea how crossbows work (as most people don’t), I might not realize that the crossbow heralded the end of the plate mail period because it rendered plate mail useless. Crossbows (which required far less training than a long bow) could kill a man wearing full plate armor from a long distance away. They were hated weapons because they revolutionized the playing field and gave an unwashed peasant the same killing power (or more) than a Lord. If you have a world where crossbow bolts are bouncing off plate mail, you’ll give every historian who knows the reality of that tidbit a twitch. I have similar reactions to unrealistic portrayal of most combat. It’s not personal, but when you know what it’s supposed to be, you have to try very, very hard to suspend your disbelief when someone is using it improperly.

4) Make sure you address the characters’ emotions during combat.

While, yes, your characters are swinging swords or firing pistols or what have you, those aren’t the only things happening in a fight. Their emotions are probably all over the place (unless they’re trained killers—then note that!) and their adrenaline is pumping. Chances are their hands might be shaking with the adrenaline rush, or they’ve got tunnel vision. You don’t need to spend a great deal of time on these things, but tossing them in here and there makes sense. It evokes feelings. In cinema we can see a character’s hands shake, their facial expressions, hear the tremor in their voice, but in literature we need to show those things to the reader. It’s an important part of a fight, so don’t forget it!

5) Keep your setting straight.

Wasn’t that table on the other side of the room? Wait, I don’t remember there being stairs here! Writers sometimes jumble up settings during a fight for the purpose of drama. Make sure you keep them consistent and mention important set pieces before they come into play. If your character is going to be thrown through a plate glass window make sure the reader knows there is one before the big moment because otherwise it will, to them, be a magically-appearing set piece, and those are a huge faux-pas.

What one of my editors at Insomnia Publishing, Joshua Quivey, suggests to authors is that they do a quick sketch of the environment. You can do this in any program resembling MS Paint or even on graph paper if you aren’t artistically inclined. For us nerds out t here, we’ll recognize it like a D&D map of the dungeon with the author knowing what goblins and kobolds lie around the next corner and the readers (adventurers!) creep along, hoping their torches stay lit and that the chest in the corner isn’t a mimic.

Writing Without Pretention

"Writing", 22 November 2008
“Writing”, 22 November 2008 (Photo credit: ed_needs_a_bicycle)

When I first started writing I was in high school. I wrote passionately, madly, and got lost in the worlds I created. I wrote volumes of (admittedly terrible) fiction of so many flavors I could’ve opened an ice cream shop to sell them all. And I did it without thinking too hard about it. I didn’t care if it was “genre fiction” or “literary”. I didn’t care if I used too many adverbs, too few adjectives, or the wrong punctuation. I just wrote. Words poured out of me with such reckless abandon that I scarcely could contain them all. And, best of all, I didn’t care what anyone else thought of my words. They were mine. Anyone else’s opinions were secondary.

Since then I’ve become more refined. I write with more polish and cohesion, but no less passion. I started to care what other people think about my words since at this point I am trying to use them to make a life for myself. But despite the fact that I have encountered a great deal of snobbery surrounding my preference for “lowly” genre fiction I persist in writing it with great joy.

It’s that lit snobbery that I want to address in this blog.

I’ve been interacting with a lot of writers, editors, and publishers lately and having long, meaningful conversations with them about the craft. Most of them have been fantastic, and I have learned a lot from speaking with these individuals. However, it’s swiftly become apparent to me that there are so many people out there that look down on one another for not being “in the know”. Whatever “in the know” means. It could be that YA writers are “immature”. It could be that anything but high literature is “rubbish”. It could be that erotica is just for “sluts”. It doesn’t really matter what the particular genre or facet of writing is someone has to turn their nose up at it and insult those that write in that style.

I’m here to say that behaving that way only reflects badly on the people talking like that. Everyone has their opinions – and rightfully so – but treating authors or other artists differently because they don’t measure up to your lofty ideals of success is not the way to go about making friends. In fact, I’ve discovered that is more of a life lesson than merely one in writing. Why does one have to be “better” than another? We all agree that some authors are better than other due to their command of the elements of our craft. That goes without saying. However, I’d suggest that regardless of what branch of the craft a writer devotes themselves to they are equally respectable. It would be like me turning my nose up at my fiance because he isn’t a fan of the intricacy of Jethro Tull and prefers Greenday. THE HORROR! (Not really.)

Writers as a community have enough trouble as it is. There are predators around every corner trying to dupe them into questionable deals, take their money for little return, or tell them that they’re foolish for trying to make a living as an artist. Don’t we have enough problems without picking at each other in such a way?

Guest Blog: George Lasher

This week instead of my babbling, I’m going to post up a guest blog from the author “George Lasher”. His story, “The Forgetful Wizard” has appeared in two of our published anthologies: “Under the Stairs” and “Damn Faeries”. Thank you for writing in, George!

I started writing in 2000 by penning a fan-fiction, Batman novel. Having proved to myself that I could write and that I enjoyed writing, I wrote a second novel, Telemurdering.

This time the story revolved around characters of my own invention. The euphoria of completing that novel gave away to the pain of rejection from the world of literary agents. The most frustrating thing about the rejections is that they never explained why.  Eager to improve, I joined the Houston Writers Guild and began to learn why my stories weren’t getting accepted: the two big reasons were the words, “was” and “had.”

I didn’t know and I think many novice writers are unaware that the word, “was” is viewed as a weak verb of being. “Was” prevents, rather than provides, description which might further pull readers into my stories. Here’s an example that clicked with me:

Bob said he was sick.
Bob said he felt like he might throw up.

Big difference! I try not to use the word “was,” unless no alternative exists. Now let’s take a look a the word, “had.”

“Had” removes the reader from being “in the moment” with the character. Readers like to be in the moment, rather than always reading about actions that already occurred.

Bob had been thinking about going home for the holidays.
Bob considered going home for the holidays.

I now understand that Literary agents aren’t in the business to teach us how to write. They post loads of helpful information on their websites, but rather than teaching, their job is to represent those who already know how to write. Personally, I’m still learning, but I have seen a number of my short stories published over the past two years. I feel confident that I will become a  published novelist in the near future. I wish that learning to eliminate “had” and “was” could get us all published, but the path to publication is filled with additional potholes, twists, and turns.

Writing is so much like competing in any sport; the required  level of dedication is immense. The world doesn’t care about the many disadvantages we face and if we can’t overcome them through practice and perseverance, we won’t be successful. But if we love to write and are willing to put in the time and effort, we may become the author of a bestseller.

Kindest regards,

George R. Lasher

The Ethic of Evil: Realistic Antagonists

I apologize for missing last week’s blog entry, I have been fighting with deadlines to get Dragon’s Teeth finished in time for us to copy-edit it and get it to the printers! The good news is that it looks like we’ll make it, the bad news is that it means I don’t get to sleep. But that’s alright! I’m excited about that book and have enjoyed it and working with the author, Suzanne.

I got an email today that I just have to comment on because it is so grossly irritating that I want to inform authors not to make the same mistake that this individual did. I received a query for an “adult novel” from an individual whose novel was interesting and clearly about a romance affair between two individuals. The author referred to it as an “adult novel” in the subject line of the email and in my (apparently meager) experience, the majority of the time when one specifies that something is for “adults” it suggests erotica. Thusly we have “adult toy stores” and “adult videos” and “adult magazines” and so on. It’s a pretty common usage of the term and since our authors come from all walks of life and experiences, I decided to ask the obvious question: is your novel erotica?

The answer I received surprised me. Not because the answer was that, in fact, the author was not writing an erotica novel, but because the author decided to demean me and insinuate that I am a base, illiterate monkey. That sort of rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe it’s because my cat died this morning and at 2am I was burying her in the rain, but making that sort of assumption about someone in a position like mine is rather insulting. I won’t bore you with my credentials and my reading list, but I assure you that the Orestia, the Illiad, the Odyssy, and the entire, collected works of Shakespeare are on it. They rub shoulders with modern contemporaries and other classical giants. The author then proceeded to insult my sentence structure and Divertir.

Now, I will fully admit that I am human and am just as capable of making grammar mistakes at 2am as anybody else. But that certainly doesn’t preclude me from being able to do my job very effectively. And even if I hadn’t read the Orestia or Shakespeare, I’m still the person deciding whether queries get further investigated or go to the junk pile so being rude to the gatekeeper isn’t the best way to get into the castle.

Please, authors, remember that not only are the people reading your queries human, we have reasons for what we do, even if you don’t understand those reasons. I am not a robot, I’m not some sort of corporate toady slurping coffee from my 52nd floor office as I chortle about the “little people”. In fact, as I write and edit, I’m sitting at my desk in the corner of my bedroom fighting with my cats for dominance of my work area and I do, in fact, have a day job that I work at very hard, and I promise it’s not glamorous.

Anyway, on to the meat of what I was going to talk about today: Antagonists!

Many people in the world think that all a good guy needs is some bad guy to hate. And that the bad guy isn’t the focus of the story and isn’t all that important. The truth is that the bad guy is vitally important. Without a good bad guy to hate, you can’t really root for the good guy. And a good bad guy makes the reader feel something.

Some examples of very effective antagonists are:

Loki from Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods”
Darth Vader from Lucas’ Star Wars movie series
The Borg from Star Trek (my nerd is showing, I know)
The Hands of Blue from Joss Wheedon’s “Firefly”
Dolores Umbridge from J. K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series

Now, not all of these antagonists are of the same breed – however they are all good examples of what we look for in a bad guy. Umbridge, particularly, inspires a deep HATRED in me and I just want to reach into my TV (or into the book) and snap her neck so many times… And that’s a good reaction. However, there are several different kinds of antagonists that I’d like to cover:

Cunning Predators: Antagonists that are crafty and keep you worried and guessing.

Tragic Antagonists: They are doing the wrong things for the right reasons, or are unable to really do anything but be the ‘bad guy’ because they’re not given a choice.

Clashing Civilizations: Not necessarily “evil” but certainly not helpful to what the protagonists are looking to accomplish.

Sympathetic Turncoats: They’re the bad guy until the very end when they realize the error of their ways (a la Darth Vader) and decide to aid the good guys.

Unsympathetic Turncoat: A character who is a good guy until a pivotal moment, where he displays his true colors.

Monsters: Sentient or not, these people (or creatures) are simply monsters acting on their most base instincts – this also covers psychopaths and inhuman creatures like aliens.

Evil Overlord: A boss of a large group of people, be it an organization, a country, or a family, who has many resources and avenues of control. And he will use all of those to get rid of the protagonist.

Now, these aren’t the only types of villains out there, some might be mixes of all of the above, some might be none of them. It’s just the way it goes. However, that said, most villains fall into those roles or a mixture thereof. Why is this important? Because the type of villain you have is important to the type of story you’re writing. I’ll use the example of a cop drama since I’m steeped in those (by choice!) and give a few examples.

A cop drama is usually a cop (and maybe his partner) going after “the perp”. The Perp can be a criminal mastermind in charge of a drug cartel (Evil Overlord), a cross-country serial killer with a sadistic, but brilliant mind (Cunning Predator) or could be a grotesque, psychotic killer (Monster).

In addition, his partner might be working for The Bad Guys ™ and could be any mix of the Turncoats and the Tragic Antagonist (maybe they’re holding his family hostage and will kill them if he doesn’t turn on his partner). All of these elements make for an interesting, potent plot.

Beyond mixing the types of antagonists and doing so with an intentional mindset, you have to make sure that the reader cares about the antagonist. Whether they pity for the poor bastard (like Alex Mahone in Prison Break, or Haywire from the same series) or loathe them to the depths of their being (like the aforementioned Dolores Umbridge), the reader needs to have their emotions riled by The Bad Guy ™.

The protagonist, naturally, needs to be the focus of the work, but the antagonists should get equal attention from the author, if not equal screen time. They need to be fully three-dimensional characters with needs, wants, and dreams of their own, even if those dreams are sadistic. If a serial killer is running around wreaking havoc, an author should spend time meditating on his reasons for doing so and have those as complete, and thought-out, as the reasons the protagonist is chasing him to the ends of the earth.

This post is getting a little long so I’ll elaborate on this in further blogs, but I just wanted to start drawing some attention to this much-overlooked bit of literary focus.

Research and Accuracy

writing (Photo credit: found_drama)

One of the things I’ve noticed in editing is that the biggest stumbling block many writers have is research. Particularly with pieces that are not about the modern era. The old adage of “write what you know” is actually a good idea, but in the context of writing about something you can expand “what you know” quite considerably.

I am currently working on a series of books that are going to be part corporate espionage, part fantasy, and part supernatural murder stories. When I started, I didn’t know very much about the world of crime and punishment but I bought some books about that (I’ll list some of them at the bottom of this entry) that have been amazingly helpful in many ways.

The places I’ve noticed most writers tend to have trouble in accuracy with (in my experience) are:

1) Injuries and Medicine

Most people that write aren’t ER surgeons. And that’s just fine! However, if you’re going to be writing about injuries that your characters sustain, it’s always best to know what the effects of the wounds are and the mortality of them. Personally, whenever I’m writing about an injury or a disease, my first stop is Google. Punch in the wound or sickness that your character has unwittingly contracted and you’ll swiftly get a long list of medical websites that detail the effects, as well as sometimes side effects.

Barring that, I also bought a book entitled “Body Trauma” on Amazon. It was written by David W. Page, MD, FACS and it’s a fantastic resource for writers. It gives information not only on injuries and complications but also the processes of treatment that happen in an ER or hospital. It’s not a large book but it is very dense and is a fantastic reference.

However, if you don’t want to pay the $10 on Amazon, webmd.com is a perfectly viable alternative. I mention this because I have gotten many submissions and read others that have such glaring issues as someone with a torn aorta living, without treatment, for over 30 minutes without medical treatment before the ambulance was even called. Most victims that have such a drastic injury don’t make it to the ER (and by most, I mean 90%). The writer had this character awake and talking the entire time when he would have almost immediately been unconscious due to shock and on top of all of that, he lived just fine after the adventure.

Those kind of errors will make anyone that knows anything about medicine grind their teeth, and it immediately removes the credibility of the writer. One of the most important parts of writing is keeping a story believable and this stretches the boundaries of “believable” until they look like taffy.

2. Police Procedure

While most of us have caught an episode of CSI: Miami on occasion, or even watch NCIS with the rabid devotion of a fangirl (I’m guilty), or even sometimes sneak in a few episodes of Castle… most people don’t know much about the criminal justice system. This is a double edged sword. While it’s a good thing that people don’t know all the details (which makes a writer’s job easier), we still have the burden of being more reliable than the writers of CSI. Many writers omit steps and procedures that are very important in a police investigation, or the operation of crime scene investigation.

While naturally one doesn’t need to include the exhaustive steps involved in an investigation, writers should at least be passingly familiar with the process so that they can choose what to simplify, omit, or modify to suit their stories. While it’s not necessary for us to put every minute detail in (readers would get bored, because let’s face it… it’s boring), we should know what goes on so that we can write about it intelligently.

3. Historical Settings

Many times, I have read books that are historical fiction (or fantasy) that appear to have been written by people that have never opened a history book. While many people make the argument “It’s fiction!”, and that’s true, fiction should retain elements of the real world and as a result ought to be believable. Now, granted, I have a B.A. in history, so I am one of the worst critics of this kind of thing. However, with that in mind, if you are going to be writing a novel series set in (or set in a world that is similar to) Medieval Europe, you should have at least a passing familiarity with the setting. That means understanding the class structure, the influence of the Church (the Catholic Church) on the mindset and world (even if yours isn’t particularly religious), and the historical events that were taking place around the time you are writing in.

Much like the police investigation, you don’t need to add all of these details, however knowing them gives you deeper insight into the setting and will allow you to create a more believable and acceptable world for your characters to interact in. Also, it will create a more logical place for your characters because if you have a knight that is ronin (yes, I specifically used an entirely inapplicable status for Western knights) then you have a big problem.

4. Geography

While none of us really liked taking Geography in school, if you’re going to be writing about real places it is a very good idea to take a look at a map. For the series I am writing (it’s about Boston), I have a 3×4 foot map of the city on my wall covered in black marker and pushpins. You don’t have to go through lengths like that with every bit of setting, however it is advisable that you at least know where, geographically, the locations are and basic information about them. If you are writing about Boston, for example, and it’s winter and you don’t have it be icy and cold, chances are you’re making a mistake.

Google Maps has been of great assistance to me, personally. I often use the street view to stroll around streets of cities that I would never want to walk, myself. It’s a very good way to get a look at the specific location you’re commenting on and while it is no substitute for going there in person, it definitely is somewhat safer.


Book of Poisons, Serita Stevens (RN, BSN, MA, LNC), and Anne Bannon, Writer’s Digest Books

Police Procedure & Investigation, Lee Lofland, Writer’s Digest Books

Forensics, D.P. Lyle, M.D., Writer’s Digest Books

Scene of the Crime, Anne Wingate, Ph.D., Writer’s Digest Books

Modus Operandi, Mauro V. Corvasce, Joseph R. Paglino, Writer’s Digest Books

Body Trauma, David. W. Page, MD, FACS, Behler Publications