This is something I wanted to touch on today, as the topic recently came up in a discussion with some of my peers. Often times, as writers, we end up writing about something that we have never had personal experience in. During these times we must fall to outside sources: people, books, even youtube or wikipedia in some cases. Not all of us can afford (or have the liberty) to travel the world for our research, and so we need to use what is available to us.
Now, this can cause some problems while constructing a scene in your writing. If, for example, you are writing about sailing a ship and have never before been on a sail ship or knew anything about it, then your scene may not be all that believable. This is an issue that I’ve tackled in my own writing, as I do not have a medieval war ship, or a trading vessel, at my disposal. Maybe someday, though…
So, anyway, what did I do? Research. I needed to find out how they were built, how they worked, and learn the lingo. I even took time to research the different versions of anchors that were developed over the years. Did you know that one of the earliest versions of anchors, the Admirality Pattern, was prone to dislodging itself due to its design? As the ship rocked above, either from the current or the wind, the anchor would sometimes come loose and need to be hauled up and set once more. They eventually fixed this with a new design that had a collapsible fluke so that the chain or rope couldn’t get wrapped around it, and also so that the anchor’s weight was kept closer to its center while set. This is something I learning in my research, and it’s quite handy to know should I need to present that situation in my story.
What you know will make or break a scene, but there are ways of still pulling it off even if your knowledge on a subject isn’t complete. For example, instead of going into details on the anchoring process, I can simply have a pair of my characters who aren’t involved in the sailing of the vessel talk about something while mentioning the anchor being dropped in the background, the sudden rocking of the ship as the anchor sets on the ocean floor, and so on. These situations come down to the way you attack a scene and you can still convey an action without investing in it wholly.
Just remember, as the writer, it’s important to write a scene that’s believable to your readers. No matter how you choose to write a scene, keep this in mind, as you do not want your readers to question the realism of a scene. If something jars them from the story then they are less likely to continue reading, and this will reflect negatively on you as the writer. Take the time to research, and fill any gaps in knowledge with creativity.
Thanks for reading, as always!