No, I'm not talking about psychosexual hangups. I'm talking about getting hung up in the details. Anybody else have this problem?

I'm starting a new series, which means I have to come up with new worlds, new characters, from scratch. Every time I start to write, I get a little ways, then am stumped and stopped in my tracks by a question. Like, "What's the favorite late-night cop hangout on Capitol Hill?" That, of course, leads to other questions: What size is a cop's beat on Capitol Hill? Do they always get assigned the same beat? How are officers partnered?

It's fiction, right? That means I get to make it up. Right? Wrong. Verisimilitude demands that I get it as close to reality as I can. So, I get hung up on the details, and don't get any writing done. I spend too much time on the Internet looking things up, or calling SPD's media relations people trying to get answers, or waiting. Waiting for what, I don't know. A sign? A burning bush?

And at the end of the day, after being frozen by inertia and lack of answers, when I've written nothing, I feel guilty. Does anyone just make it up and say, "I'll fix it later."? Does that work?

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Comment by I. J. Parker on April 15, 2007 at 1:44am
I'm just as obsessive as you. I spent years getting the facts right for my first historical series and still stop to look up stuff. By now I have the books and notes, thank God. And I also just switched to another place and time, twice in fact, and constantly stop to get it right. And this is a stand-alone. Sorry, I can't take Stephen King's advice. He doesn't have my problems. I'm switching from Heian Japan to 18th century Germany.
Comment by Michael C. Jacobs on March 26, 2007 at 3:39pm
On suggestion I heard recently was to pick up a Sears catalog for the year you're working in. You not only get to have a look at the clothing styles but you get a sense of what things cost, even of the language and tone of ... well of the Sears catalog of that year.

I realize this is no help for questions of what prisoners wear, but there is a lot of good detail there.

Old catalogs and reprints are available, check ebay etc.
Comment by Michael W. Sherer on March 26, 2007 at 3:18pm
That's a great idea, Kathryn! Hey, Daniel, you listening? Instead of just blogging questions, could we have a Q&A section for questions involving specific expertise? Or even general questions? I have a specialty in food safety, if anyone has questions.
Comment by Kathryn Lilley on March 26, 2007 at 9:59am
Thanks, David, next time I will! In fact, it would be great to have a section on the site, something along the lines of Q&A.
Comment by David Terrenoire on March 26, 2007 at 9:32am

Or you could have asked here. I still remember mine from basic training.

That's where a place like this can be valuable aside from the jokes and grabass.
Comment by Kathryn Lilley on March 26, 2007 at 1:49am
I wouldn't stop to do a bit of quick research, but would if it became too time-consuming or frustrating. And I would never stop if I were on a roll with the writing. On the other hand, yesterday I spent two hours trying to look up military marching chants (I plan to make one up, but need some real ones as models), Took me forever to discover that they're called cadences, not chants, marches, ditties, songs, etc. That was kind of a waste. I could have just inserted TBD and come back to it later.
Comment by Steven Torres on March 25, 2007 at 1:47pm
I read where Stephen King suggested not stopping to look up things like the capital of Bolivia, but I can't follow that advice. If I think something needs to be in the scene, I'll look it up before I can write. I avoid these situations however. For the most part, the verisimilitude I worry about is emotional rather than factual. For instance, if I have a scene where a police officer is confronting a gunman, I might worry about what is the procedure that police officers learn in their training, but this is most likely to be either very much common sense (call for back up, etc) or overridden by the emotions of the particular officer I'm writting about - a coward might just run, an impetuous man might go on the offensive regardless of what the textbook says.
Comment by Michael W. Sherer on March 25, 2007 at 1:36am
I almost started a series that I began to develop 10 years ago that follows a dual track in the present and 1899. Even though research is much easier now than it was then because of the Internet, the enormity of how much I had to learn stopped me from proceeding. Too many questions. Did they have window screens in 1899? Electric lights and indoor plumbing were becoming commonplace, but how common were they in rural towns? Etc., etc.

So, I started this series instead, but every book has its questions. What I'm trying to figure out is whether to put in "think" time when I get stuck--developing characters and their back stories, refining plot points--or try to push through the writing block by "faking" the details and fixing them later.
Comment by Libby Hellmann on March 25, 2007 at 1:30am
Another thing that stopped me for two days was the location of the first Black Panther Health Clinic in Chicago. I know it opened in September 1969, but couldnt find out where. I anguished, made calls, and FINALLY found out it was on 16th street... 3400 west. By then, of course, I'd figured out another way to write the scene, and didnt need the location.

And so it goes.
Comment by David Terrenoire on March 24, 2007 at 10:45pm
I'm working in 1941 and so far I've found everything I'm looking for (I'm more worried about it's the stuff I'm not looking for that could bite me on the ass) but there have been a few items that still bug me. Here's one: If somone was arrested in Anacostia for murder and a few days after the arrest his lawyer goes to see him, what's he wearing? (The prisoner, not the lawyer.) Has he been allowed to change clothes since he was arrested? If so, could a friend or his lawyer bring him clean clothes or would they put him in a uniform? What does a jail uniform in DC in 1941 look like?

I've dug down to the US Marshall's official historian and he didn't know. I've looked for pictures at MLK and the Library of Congress. I can find pictures of prisoners who were convicted and in jail but what about that interim period?

Finally, I just had to give it up and move on. Clothing doesn't make the story but damn, I sure would like to know.

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