Sunday, July 7, 2013

Putting in the Research

I judged a contest entry not too long ago. The entry was well written, the hero and heroine engaging, the premise interesting and fresh, and something I’d never seen before. For the first half of the entry this story was great. In fact, it was one of the cooler contest entries I’d ever judged and I’ve judged quite a few. And then the author started filtering in her hero’s back story and my enjoyment came to a screeching halt because she made this guy a retired SEAL.

Now I don’t claim to be the queen of research, but I do try. I’m not a SEAL, nor have I ever been a SEAL. I’m not in the SEAL community. I don’t have SEAL or ex-SEAL friends, or relatives who I can question exhaustively. But I still try to get the details right. (well unless they don’t work for the manuscript and then I sort of twist them!) I do a boatload of research online, I read all the books out there written by men who used to do the job my heroes are doing, I’ve been lurking on a closed SEAL forum full of the real deal for several years. And I found a former Navy EOD diver who has worked with all of the West Coast SEAL teams to answer my questions if I can’t find the answer online.

So yeah, I’ve done as much research as I possibly can without having access to an actual SEAL myself.

But this author, she/he did absolutely no research. And I mean not even the basics. She didn’t even spell SEAL correctly. Her hero’s back story timeline was impossible because she didn’t even know the standard length of enlistment. Everything she pinned on the hero in that entry was wrong. 

Annoyingly wrong, because all it would have taken to fix the inaccuracies was a quick Google on Navy SEALs and the very FIRST URL that would have popped up would have alerted her to her inaccuracies.  To compound what she did with her hero, she introduced a gaggle of secondary heroes who were also decorated ex-Navy SEALs, and her lack of research carried over into them. And then it carried over into her details on Law Enforcement, since all of these characters had joined the same police station and gotten into the same anti-terrorist unit. Now I’m not that well versed in Law Enforcement, but just from reading the posts that come through the crime scene loop, I knew her LE details were as unresearched as her military details. 

By the end of that contest entry I was so damn annoyed I wanted to shake her. Here was an author who had enough pride in her work to master grammar, punctuation, characterization, and story-telling, only to do absolutely no research to ground her story in the technical details of her hero's background and current job? Please! If you aren’t willing to put in the research, then don’t make your heroes Navy SEALs, and for God’s sake, don’t make them active law enforcement.

As an aside here, while I’m on the topic of research.

I just received the developmental edits back for my third Red-Hot SEALs book and my developmental editor asked me to bring in more details about the SEAL team my heroes are on. Things like how many men are on their team, where they usually deploy, what kind of jobs the team is usually given, what kind of expertise each member of the team has. While I know these details, I’m having a huge problem bringing them into the story as my DE requested.

 For one thing, the over-arcing plot of this series takes place outside the teams, and they are so consumed with the current events sucking them down they aren’t thinking about any of the things my DE wants me to bring in. I mean these things are second nature and known to my SEALs, so they aren’t things they are thinking about or discussing. And every single person introduced in this book lives this life, so there isn’t someone new and unfamiliar with team life that I can use to filter the answers to my DE questions in. After exhausting way too many brain cells, I finally came up with a way to incorporate these details, or at least most of them into the story, in a way that won’t feel like author intrusion—but it sure wasn’t an easy thing to do.

The other thing that has been bugging me through the past three books is the jargon SEALs use. I want to use the actual Jargon they use, instead of substituting terms or words they don’t use, but that readers would be familiar with. While it’s true that readers might not know exactly what the term means, most the time they can get a good idea from the context of the sentence. Besides, I can include a glossary in the back.

So what do you think?

If you run across a piece of jargon in the characters thoughts or dialogue and you aren’t sure what it means, does that really stop you from reading? Do you find it annoying? Inquiring minds would like to know.


  1. I'm with you, Trish. I try my best to get the details right too, so I would expect an author to at least put some effort into research before they write about a military/law enforcement character.

  2. "She didn’t even spell SEAL correctly." - That's pretty unforgivable right there when not even the main subject is correct.

    As for your question, the answer is no. If I'm unfamiliar with jargon I will look it up if I really can not figure out what it means in context. There are some words, like FUBAR, that can't be so easily explained without spelling it out, but then usually the author includes a glossary at the beginning or the end of a book. But it never stops me from reading. In fact, it's nice to learn something new.

    1. The fact she didn't even spell SEAL correctly immediately put my back up--LOL. But I gave her the benefit of the doubt. I thought it could be a typo. But nope, everyone time she used it was spelled the same way, and then the other inaccuracies started showing up.

      Good to hear you don't have a problem with military jargon in a book. Some of it is so colorful, I think it really adds to the reading experience. But my editors have been so worried about my readers getting confused, I've been pulling the jargon out and substituting something else. I've asked if we can include a glossary so I can use the words I want and the readers can find out the meaning if they're interested.

      We'll be including a English/Arapaho dictionary in this one since one of my characters is Arapaho and uses some of that language through out. I don't see the harm in adding a glossary for the Navy jargon.

  3. I get frustrated too, reading over authors with no familiarity with the SEAL community. I purposely change details and things for the story, but it isn't a matter of poor research. That author thinks the label SEAL is everything, and it isn't.

    You'd think these issues would not come up with a traditionally published author, but recently a very high profile author had a Trident on the cover in the form of a tattoo, and it was backwards.

    Good on you for researching the details and spending the time getting it right. But I see mistakes all the time all over the place, and yes, I agree, it's annoying. One thing to intentionally make a change like sometimes I do in my books, for a specific reason, and another to just not know.

    1. Sharon,

      You're lucky that you're tapped into the SEAL community through your son. :)

      I don't doubt that I have some stuff in my books wrong- some of this is intentional. For example I have Rawls, who is an officer as the team Corpsman even though this is generally an enlisted skill. But I made that extenuating circumstances. He had years of medical school before his life changed course and he quit school and joined the Navy.

      But I'm sure there are other things that I just don't know are inaccurate. (shrug)I do the very best I can.

  4. Hey Kaylea,

    I don't think you can ever get the research perfect unless you are writing in a field you're intimately aware of--or unless you give the book to someone to read who is intimately familiar with the subject. But at the very least you can do as much research through books and internet as possible.

    That was what bothered me so much about this author's work. She hadn't even googled the subject. If she'd googled it, she would know you don't spell SEAL as Seal.

  5. No, coming across jargon that I'm not familiar with does not stop me from reading. If I can't figure it out, then I'll look it up. Good post!