Thursday, February 23, 2012

Building a Writing Fortress


Are you building your writing fortress? As writers a lot of action happens in our minds. We create characters, think up situations to put them in, and hope that what we write sounds realistic. To help with the realism factor, we do extensive research by sometimes going to the actual places where we've set our books, or we do what our characters do. This doesn't mean we have to build a fortress with mortar and brick, but we do need to have a certain amount of knowledge to build our stories. Gene Roddenberry didn't fly through space, and I highly doubt Stephanie Myers has kissed a vampire, but they knew how to write scenes with feeling and basic knowledge to make their stories real for their readers. Basic knowledge adds to your writing fortress.

Last night I added to mine. I write YA time travels and romantic suspense. My current book is another romantic suspense. Many times my main characters need to defend themselves by shooting a gun. In an effort to truly understand what it feels like to fire a weapon, I signed up for a class that would teach me how to shoot a shotgun, rifle, and handgun. I really wanted to do this, but I was scared out of my mind.

There were five other women in the class: a mother and her two adult daughters, a doctor, and a surgical nurse. We had various reasons for taking the class. As each woman introduced herself, I saw strong characters for future novels. The doctor traveled the world going to dangerous countries to give aid, so she wanted to know how to use a weapon. The nurse had traveled as well, and in fact, at one time had been taken hostage having a machine gun aimed at her. And the mother and daughters just wanted to know how to handle weapons for safety and protection. Then there was me. I didn't tell them that I was a writer. I didn't want them to act differently. Sometimes when people learn I'm a writer they become self conscious, or . . . I hate this . . . they tell me they have a story I should write. So I just said I wanted to learn how to handle a gun with confidence. The teacher said that was exactly what he was going to teach us.

We learned how to load and unload a handgun, how to aim, where to aim, and how to hit what we're aiming at. After two hours of instruction with the various weapons, we went to the firing range, put on safety goggles and ear protection, and then we were ready to actually apply what we'd learned with live ammunition.

I loaded the Glock, snapped the magazine (they only call them clips in the movies), cocked the gun, and I was ready. Holding the weapon within my hands and pulling it up to take aim, I prayed I'd hit the target. Squeezing the trigger, I was ready for the repercussion that jolted my arms as the bullet launched. I saw how smoke coiled from the gun barrel and smelled the cordite that hung in the air. I had hit the target and was filled with exhilaration because I had accomplished what I'd set out to do.

I now know how my characters feel when they pick up a gun, what they smell when the gun goes off, and how fear can be overcome with knowledge.

The reality of firing a weapon and how it feels will always stay with me. And believe it or not, I plan to go to the firing range as often as I can. I'm building not only my confidence, but my characters.

What have you done to build your writing fortress? What experiences make up the mortar and brick of realism in your story?



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16 comments:

  1. this is taking your research to heart for sure - but I'll bet your scenes with guns will read a whole lot differently now

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  2. Tracy,
    I hope it adds more to those scenes. Thanks for stopping by.

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  3. That's awesome that you did that for your writing! I actually had gun training because I was an entertainer at Old Tucson Studios and had to fire weapons (yes they were real) in the shows. It certainly is a different experience, but being educated and actually doing it makes a huge difference.

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  4. Good for you! I love to travel to enhance my stories, but I would certainly be interested in firing a gun if a story required I learn how. I remember a short story by a famous author - I don't recall who. The story starts with the mc as a boy who has terrifying monsters in his dreams, so his father teaches him how to shoot a gun. What the weight and kick back feels like, how it smells, how to aim, etc. Then they put the unloaded gun under the boy's pillow at night (that wouldn't go over so well nowadays, but this was an old story) and the father tells him it's there to use in his dreams and it works. He blows away every monster. Then as an adult, he becomes a dream thief police officer and catches a bad guy invading others' dreams to steal info because that .45 is still under his dream pillow and his faith in it by now is unbeatable. LOL A good enough story I remember the whole thing!

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  5. On our vacation road trip last summer we added some stops that I knew would help me with setting. Oh and eating certain foods--that was fun!

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  6. Lisa,
    Ah, you could probably teach me a few things. It sounds like you had quite the education working at Old Tucson Studios. No wonder you're a writer.

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  7. Victoria,
    That sounds like an amazing story with a great concept. I'd love to know the title of the book. I'll tell you, firing an actual gun is very different than I thought it would be: frightening and exhilarating at the same time.

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  8. Coleen,
    You bring up a good point, eating the food that is in your story. I'm heading to Ireland next month, and I can't wait to eat the cuisine there. And yes, it will show up in a future novel as well as the beautiful setting.

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  9. Hi Kathi. Very nice page. I'm not able to join your blog because I guess, they are removing Google Connect soon. But I did put you on my blog roll, and will be back for your next post.

    Cheers and boogie boogie.

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  10. Although ... I'm looking about and this comment box has Google/Blogger stuff.

    I'm not sure why Google is removing Google Friends Connect.

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  11. nice post today, Kathi! Love the illustration too. Not sure I would ever take a gun into my hands, since I'm too much of a pacifist :) but I do understand how you have to do extensive research for your book. Research often differentiates great writers from amateurs :)
    Thanks for visiting and following HOLLYWOOD SPY, hope to see you there often :)

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  12. Dezmond,
    I'm glad you liked the picture. Not only is it a fortress, but it also shows how what people do and how they dream, which is what writers do as well.

    I was scared to death handling a gun, but I wanted to know how to do it, how it felt, and now I'm determined to become a good shot. Who would have thought?

    It's interesting what paths research will take you.

    Thanks for the follow! :)

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  13. I've taken a gun class before. It was fun - the instructor was a former Special Forces guy. I learned a lot.

    Happy Weekend!

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  14. Carol,
    Cool, Special Forces. I'll bet that class was very informative in many ways.

    My teacher manages a shooting range and also teaches how to handle a gun at the university.

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  15. Fun! At my last writers' gun outing, I got to fire the rifle my female Russian sniper character would have used in World War II. Big gun! We had a local police lieutenant to help us out.

    I put myself outside my writing comfort zone just yesterday by calling someone I only know in passing to interview him about his old job (FBI agent). I find talking on the phone to strangers very nerve wracking, but it was actually fun and very informative.

    One quick note: I'm on an email list for law enforcement officers helping writers, and just last week they went *off* about using the term "cordite" to apply to the smell of gunpowder. I don't know the difference, but it was a big deal to them. Who knew?

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  16. Jordan,
    Hmm, I wonder why they don't like the word cordite. The next time I go to the shooting range I'll see if anyone there would know.

    You shot a big WWII gun. Wow! I hope the recoil wasn't bad. I can handle the recoil on a 45 revolver, but I'm very cautious when it comes to rifles and shotguns.

    Isn't being a writer so much fun? We get to explore all sorts of exciting things.

    Thanks for stopping by and passing on your knowledge. :)

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