Posted On January 7, 2015 by Print This Post

Writing What You Know…And What You Don’t Know…Yet – by Wendy S. Marcus

As writers, we know nothing comes easy. And that applies to research, too. Long-time RU supporter Wendy S.Marcus shares tips on expanding the boundaries of what you know and researching the unknown.

One randomly chosen commenter will receive a copy of Wendy’s latest, Loving You Is Easy. 

Welcome back, Wendy!

A great big thank you to my pals at Romance University for having me here today! When I was first tossing around ideas for today’s blog post I knew I wanted to tie my topic into my new release, a Loveswept Contemporary Romance, Loving You Is Easy. Not because I want to beat you over the head with buy my book. Buy my book. Buy my book. But because writing Loving You Is Easy was a huge stretch for me, and I’m hoping if I share my experience, maybe it will help you to stretch in your writing too.

Let me start at the beginning of my writing journey. We’ve all heard the sage advice from multi-published, successful authors who have come before us, “Write what you know.” And back in 2008, when I first started to write seriously, that’s exactly what I did. I set my work in progress in upstate New York, where I live. I set scenes from my story on a medical surgical floor of a fictional hospital that looked and functioned very much like a unit I’d worked on as a nurse fresh out of college. I made my hero a doctor and my heroine a nurse, two professions I felt very comfortable writing about. And lucky me, in 2010, after months of revisions, an editor from Harlequin’s Medical Romance line bought my second completed manuscript, and When One Night Isn’t Enough was released in 2011.

Fast forward to 2015. After publishing 6 medical romance novels, two short stories, one Cosmopolitan Red Hot Read from Harlequin novella, and one full-length Loveswept Contemporary Romance, I’ve come to the conclusion that, while writing what you know is excellent advice for new writers, it’s equally important to write what you’re passionate about. Your passion for a topic or character is what will make your story shine.

And while knowledge is learned, passion comes from within.

So what am I passionate about? Over the past few years I’ve become quite passionate about soldiers who leave their friends and WendyPromoPicLargeloved ones to protect and serve our country while putting their safety and their lives at risk, who return home from war different people than when they left. True heroes, in my opinion. And I can’t get enough of them. I love to read their stories and watch their ‘Soldiers Coming Home’ videos on YouTube. In fact it was one such video that gave me the idea for Loving You Is Easy. A young woman was waiting at the airport to welcome home her soldier boyfriend so they could share their very first kiss. Turned out they’d been passing friends in school and their romance grew through correspondence while he was stationed overseas in Iraq. How romantic!

But how does a nurse who doesn’t know any military personnel write realistic and believable soldier heroes?

Research.

Wait! Don’t go! Don’t let the word ‘research’ scare you off!

Even writing what you know requires research. And I’m not talking about the hours you spend browsing photos on Pinterest! I’m talking real fact checking, investigation and analysis for verifying terminology and procedures, and creating interesting yet realistic characters and situations that readers want to read about.

There are different schools of thought regarding research.

Some authors set out to do extensive research before starting a book. They believe this helps them to develop story ideas and characterization.

Other authors believe research should be done after the story is completed, because why waste time researching a scene that may wind up being cut from the manuscript during the editing process?

Like all things writing related, you have to do what works best for you. For me, I tend to do extensive research before writing a book and when questions arise as the story progresses. Initially I Google search name combinations to try to find ones that are not real people. Then I’ll investigate jobs and army ranks/responsibilities to get a feel for who my characters are. If I have certain scenes in mind I’ll look for videos or articles that will help me make them as realistic as possible.

Loving You Is Easy is my first book with no medical professional characters and no hospital scenes. It’s my first book set, in part, outside of New York. It’s also my longest book to date. And to fill those pages with realistic characters and situations, I had to do a lot of research. I had to learn how pictures move around Facebook, how teachers are disciplined when there’s an allegation of inappropriate sexual contact with a student, and how the police conduct an investigation of inappropriate sexual contact between a teacher and student. I had to learn about New Jersey and PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) and how an injured soldier assimilates back into his regular life. I had to learn about New York politicians, and for one yummy scene, all the different desserts you can make with apples!

How did I do it?

The Internet! And with some help from my friends. I LOVE Facebook. When I wrote my first soldier hero back in 2012 I’d put a call out on Facebook for anyone who knew a soldier who’d be willing to help me with research for a romance book. A friend of a friend offered up her nephew who’d recently returned from Iraq. We e-mailed and spoke on the phone. Through this back and forth exchange I learned things I hadn’t read about online, which led to questions I’d never thought to ask. Don’t be nervous about asking someone to help you with research. Most people enjoy talking about themselves and the work they do. And what’s the worst that can happen? They say no and you find someone else.

I also Facebook messaged two friends from high school, one a junior high school teacher, the other a retired police officer, to ask for help. Both were very willing to speak with me. Through another friend I was given a contact at the District Attorney’s office to find out what, if anything would happen to the children who made the false claims on Facebook. Unfortunately she never got back to me so, in the book, I didn’t go into as much detail about this as I would have liked.

Even though I didn’t plan to write any fight scenes, I read soldier memoirs from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to get a feel for what soldiers experience in a warzone, and also to pick up soldier lingo to make my heroes sound authentic. I visited dozens of soldier blogs and websites to learn about post combat PTSD. I watched YouTube videos of combat scenes and soldier welcome home ceremonies. I visited the U.S. Army website to verify soldier ranks and the locations of army bases. And of course I read LOTS of romance books with soldier heroes to see what I liked about them and what I didn’t.

The most important thing about research is verifying accuracy of data. I typically verify information on at least two reputable sites, and that does not include Wikipedia where anyone can post information.

Details can make or break your story. Details make a story feel authentic. They draw your readers in. If those details are incorrect, readers may be pulled out of the story or stop reading. And they won’t hesitate to tell you so in reviews and on social media.

I hope you’ve found this information helpful. If you have a question about research please post it in the comments and I’ll try to help.

So what types of stories and characters are you passionate about? Do you write what you know or what you’re passionate about or, ideally, a combination of the two? And do you research before you start writing, as you write, or after your first draft is complete?

Be sure to comment as one commenter will win a digital copy of Loving You Is Easy.

***

Next up: Friday, January 9th – Author Kristina Knight on How to Use 15 Minutes to Write Your Book 

 

Loving_You_Is_Easy

LOVING YOU IS EASY – She’s a survivor of the front lines of politics. He’s a wounded soldier returning home from the battlefield. Can they place their trust in the power of love?

Nobody plays the role of perfect politician’s daughter better than quiet, respectable math teacher Brooke Ellstein. But she won’t be caught swimming with the sharks again, not after the son of a wealthy donor sinks his teeth into her and gets away with it. Still, political connections have their perks, such as heading up the governor’s “Support Our Troops” pen-pal initiative–and getting first dibs on the smoking-hot sergeant whose picture shakes her right down to her goody-two-shoes.

When corresponding with sweet, classy Brooke, Shane Develen instinctively hides his commando tattoos and blue-collar roots–and he can tell that she’s hiding something, too. But Shane knows he’s gained her trust when Brooke gives him a blisteringly sexy photo. Then he’s injured in an ambush and a fellow soldier posts the snapshot online. Overnight, Brooke’s reputation turns to ashes. Even though he’s totally wrong for her, Shane shows up on Brooke’s doorstep, determined to set things right–and discovers that right or wrong has nothing on the chemistry they share.

***

Bio: Wendy S. Marcus is an award-winning author of contemporary romance. A nurse by trade, Wendy holds a Master of Science in Health Care Administration, a degree that does her absolutely no good as she now spends her days, nights, and weekends mucking around in her characters’ lives creating conflict, emotion, and, of course, a happily ever after. Wendy lives in the beautiful Hudson Valley region of New York. When she’s not writing, she enjoys spending time with her family, which includes her dog Buddy, and blogging/e-mailing/tweeting/facebooking with her online friends. To learn more about Wendy and her books visit her website or connect with her via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.

 

 

 

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21 Responses to “Writing What You Know…And What You Don’t Know…Yet – by Wendy S. Marcus”

  1. Hi Everyone! I’m thrilled to be visiting RU today. I’m looking forward to chatting with you!! So please leave me lots of comments. I’m working on the sequel to Loving You Is Easy, the title is Loving You Is Everything. So I’ll be stopping by here and there during my writing breaks – more like using you all to take more frequent writing breaks!!!

    Posted by Wendy S. Marcus | January 7, 2015, 9:22 am
  2. Wendy, I really enjoyed this post. I love the fact that you went outside your original ‘comfort zone’ to write about something that interested you but that you didn’t have first hand experience with, and that you found different ways of conducting your research to make it ‘ring true’. I find I learn far more about a topic once I start writing about it because it necessitates doing a great deal of reading, video watching, and question-asking (you can’t be shy if you want to know the details of someone’s job or lifestyle). What I do struggle with is setting; I find researching locations difficult because you get a sort of ‘visitor’ perspective from most research (vs. a ‘resident’ viewpoint). Because of this, I always set my stories in places I have lived or visited frequently. How do you go about writing a story in a setting you’ve never been to (or in a completely imaginary one?) so it sounds like you have intimate knowledge of the place? Thanks.

    Posted by Margo Karolyi | January 7, 2015, 10:21 am
    • Hi Margo!
      Like you, I typically set my stories in in areas where I’ve lived, worked or visited. But making up fictional towns gives an author some leeway. Though we still need to be true to the area we’re writing about. For Loving You Is Easy I set Shane’s family home in a blue collar neighborhood in New Jersey – an area I am not familiar with. So I researched this by looking at hundreds of pictures from New Jersey communities, taking note of the style of the homes, the size of the yards, driveways vs. on street parking. I printed out the pictures and created my own neighborhood but used what’s typical of the area to create it. As far as visitor’s perspective vs. resident viewpoint, if you’re creating your own neighborhood it’s up to the author to provide the fictional details that would make a neighborhood feel real to the reader. If you’re writing about a real town or city I suggest you try to visit or talk with someone from that area.

      For the book I’m working on now, Rory’s family bar is an Irish Pub in downtown Boston. I haven’t been to Boston in years, and when I was there I wasn’t old enough to visit an Irish pub!! So I’m looking forward to taking a trip to Boston for research!!! (Some types of research are much more fun than others!!)

      I hope I answered your question. Thanks for stopping by!

      Posted by Wendy S. Marcus | January 7, 2015, 10:52 am
  3. Thanks, Wendy, for sharing your fascinating research process! I came to a screeching halt with two of my stories because I didn’t know enough about the careers I’d given my heroes, and I didn’t know anyone to ask about them. One was an FBI agent, and I spent so much time on the FBI website I worried I’d be red-flagged as a potential terrorist. The other was a city police officer – I knew some small town police officers, but no one with the kind of background knowledge I needed. I want to go back to those stories, so I need to either find some sources or come up with new careers for the heroes, which would completely change both stories.

    On the lighter side, I was talking to a mystery writer who was researching a story that involved yachts, and I seem to remember a yacht was stolen in the story. She found some yacht builders who let her ask all kinds of questions, until they became suspicious of her intentions. Luckily, she’s multi-published so she was able to convince them she wasn’t planning a real yacht heist! As an unpublished writer, I feel weird asking professionals (like police or FBI agents) to let me pick their brains. Maybe I’ll hold off on those stories for now and go for something I’m more familiar with instead.

    Thanks so much for your very helpful post!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | January 7, 2015, 10:48 am
    • Hi Becke!
      You make me smile! Sometimes I worry my Internet searches will get me red-flagged too!!!

      As an unpublished writer I had the same concerns about calling a police department for research. But you can still put out a call for help on Facebook. You’d be surprised how you can make connections that way. I think a police officer/FBI agent would be much more willing to speak with you if he/she were referred to you by a family friend or a relative as opposed to you calling him/her up at the office out of the blue.

      And you make a strong point for researching stories/characters before you begin writing! I hope that someday those stories will see the light of day!!!

      Great to chat with you!!

      Posted by Wendy S. Marcus | January 7, 2015, 11:00 am
  4. Thank you for this post! I’m one of those writers who tends to stick to writing what I know, which is why I have yet to venture out of California.

    Posted by Heatherly Bell | January 7, 2015, 11:21 am
    • Hi Heatherly!
      No problem with that. I’m perfectly happy setting stories in New York. The problem came with the set up of Loving You Is Easy. You see, Brooke was responsible for coordinating the New York governor’s ‘Support Our Troops’ initiative which matched military men and women serving abroad with classroom children in NYS. The program was for service men and woman who were residants of or stationed in NY. Somehow soldiers from out of state, who didn’t meet the program requirements, got added to her list. Since she didn’t want to exclude them she made arrangements for her friends to serve as their pen pals. Thus at least one character in each book of this series has to be from outside of NY. It’s added to my research. But I’m learning lots of new things and making excuses to go and visit new places!

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Posted by Wendy S. Marcus | January 7, 2015, 11:56 am
  5. Hi Wendy,
    I love part of your research was to read lots of romance novels involving soldiers. “Wink, wink.”
    As a person just starting down the road of romance writing, I have read my share of different kinds of stories. Anything from inspirational to down and dirty to Ewe! From Cowboys to Dukes to shifters, and what I learned from the many late night reading jags, is where my comfort levels stand. Yes, there is line even I wouldn’t cross. A thin line, but a line nonetheless.
    And, I have to say, without reading the hundreds, no, make that thousands of books. I should probably check my Kindle for the exact number. I don’t think I would have felt confident enough to try my keyboard at writing romance. I also love your idea of talking to a professional in the field you want to write about. As you said, their experience can enrich your story through the details not found on the Internet.
    Wendy, thank you again for sharing from your own experience.

    Posted by Deborah Cracovia | January 7, 2015, 1:32 pm
  6. Hi Deborah!

    I must admit, when I first started out writing I needed to become comfortable with writing hot sex scenes. I liked to read them but couldn’t quite get myself to write them. So I started reading erotica! I’m happy to say it worked! Although I’m not a big paranormal reader, it was Kate Douglas’s Wolf Tales series that pushed my boundaries pretty far from where they’d started!

    And reading in the genre you write in is imperative! You need to know what’s selling. You need to see what works and what doesn’t work.

    Good luck with your writing!

    Posted by Wendy S. Marcus | January 7, 2015, 2:15 pm
  7. Hi Wendy,

    There have been instances when I’m researching one topic and happen upon another that I can use in a story, whether it be the current story or one in the future. I created a fictional setting in a state I’d never visited. Maybe I went a bit overboard by looking up average rainfall and native plants, but those little details add to the authenticity of a story.

    While the focus of a romance should be on the relationship between the H/H, I’ve learned a lot about history, ethnic customs, and a range of subjects that were the result of good research by the author.

    Thanks for blogging with us today!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | January 7, 2015, 8:40 pm
    • Hi Jennifer!
      I totally agree that the little details are what add authenticity to a story. I enjoy research. Today I’ll be researching The National Bone Marrow Donor Program. Not as fun as looking up pictures of hot guys for help with characterization…but interesting none the less.

      Thanks for the invite!

      Posted by Wendy S. Marcus | January 8, 2015, 9:07 am
  8. Loved your post today. I tend to write what I have known, but have started to write beyond this. Yes, research is so important. One of my stories involves a former soldier with PTSD – am learning lots about that. Having experienced it myself after a devestating car crash 30 years ago, has made the research easier.
    Thanks for this valuable info.

    Posted by Bev | January 7, 2015, 9:00 pm
    • Thank you Bev!

      See…by writing PTSD when you’ve had it yourself, you are writing what you know. All you have to do is tweak your knowledge to encompass post combat triggers and maybe services available to veterans. But for the most part I believe the coping mechanisms are similar, taking into consideration typical soldier personality types.

      I’m a nurse. And while I’ve never had to deal with PTSD personally, I have cared for patients suffering from it.

      Good luck with your writing!

      Posted by Wendy S. Marcus | January 8, 2015, 9:11 am
    • Hi Bev!
      Congratulations! You won! See my comment below.

      Posted by Wendy S. Marcus | January 8, 2015, 2:45 pm
  9. Unfortunately, I find research so enjoyable that I delay actual writing far too long. I’m trying to break the habit, but I find the seduction of finding out details of the Regency period hard to resist. It just occurred to me that there might be a niche for someone like me: researching for other writers. But then I’d never finish my well researched but still in its infancy project.

    Posted by Ruchama | January 7, 2015, 9:13 pm
    • Hi Ruchama!
      That is a definite hazard of research. I also find one article will mention another article so I’ll go there. Then that article will mention a book so I’ll go look it up on Amazon. And oh look, my favorite author has a book on sale today. And while I’m on Amazon let me check the sales ranking of my new book. Oh! A new review. Let me post that to Facebook and Twitter. And I guess you can figure out what happens after that….

      Thanks for stopping by! Good luck with your writing.

      Posted by Wendy S. Marcus | January 8, 2015, 9:14 am
  10. Evening Wendy!

    So great to have you back with us on RU! =)

    I’m like Jen, I start researching something, then find a snippet of something else I might want to use in another book. Sometimes I manage to find my way back to my original research, and sometimes it seems I can get lost for an hour (or more!) just by following tangents of the original research. =)

    But by golly, I always learn some interesting stuff that just might work well in a story later on!

    Thanks for posting with us Wendy!

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | January 7, 2015, 10:14 pm
    • Hi Carrie!
      It’s been tooooo long.

      I think those tangents give great ideas. And even if you don’t use information specifically found in your research I still believe it helps you gain a better understanding of a topic and gain further insight into a character’s occupation or personality or illness. I judge a lot of contest entries and I’m forever writing: Too vague. Need more details.

      Thanks for the comment!

      Posted by Wendy S. Marcus | January 8, 2015, 9:17 am
  11. “Don’t let research scare you off!” <–Haha! It's so true that research seems scary. How awesome that you were able to get some of that information from people you know! Thanks for sharing all this…off to check out your book now!

    Posted by Chelsea Jacobs | January 8, 2015, 9:29 am
    • Hi Chelsea!
      You’d be amazed how much information you can get from people you know or people your friends/family refer you to. Put the word out about what you need, usually you’ll find someone to help.

      Thank you for stopping by…and for checking out my book!!

      Posted by Wendy S. Marcus | January 8, 2015, 10:40 am
  12. Thank you to everyone who stopped by to read my post! And a special thank you to those who commented. The winner of the digital copy of Loving You Is Easy is Bev! Please contact me at Wendy @ WendySMarcus dot com with your e-mail address and which format you’d like.

    Posted by Wendy S. Marcus | January 8, 2015, 2:45 pm

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