How I got by with a little help from the internet – on credibility, by Nikki Dudley
Last year, my psychological thriller, Volta, won the Virginia Prize for Fiction 2020. Fast forward to this year and after receiving my first round of edits, I had one big problem: credibility! My novel features three characters who are a lawyer, a therapist and a police officer. What became clear to me after the publisher fed back to me was that I had a serious issue with credible events, actions and behaviour throughout the novel.
So what did I do (after I’d stopped banging my head against the wall…)? I decided to take it one step at a time. I marked the things I could check later and focused on the parts that would change the narrative and story arc quite drastically. Since I am neither a lawyer, police officer or therapist, I started my search for help.
A simple call-out on Twitter ended up solving some of my problems. I ended up finding a poet I’d worked with whose partner is a therapist. I also have a friend who is a therapist. All in all, I found asking for help was a pretty important, and incredibly simple, step. In terms of law, Google was my friend, as well as a former proofreading client of mine who is training to be a lawyer.
Now, the police officer and the criminal elements turned out to be the biggie! I was also told that my characters couldn’t reveal certain details to one another and had to follow procedures I had not known about when writing the novel (oops), so there were quite a few chapters and scenes that needed rewriting.
I discovered the wonder of specialised Facebook groups. In my research, I found two that were invaluable:
1) Trauma fiction, which is run by doctors and medical professionals, and advises you on the nasty injuries you want to inflict!
2) Writers Detective Q&A, which is run by ex- and current police detectives, which is an absolute goldmine for checking police procedures (such as warrants, witnesses and so on…)
With both of these, it’s important to note they are US-based so you need to clarify that when asking questions. However, the point is, there’s a group out there for your novel or area of specialism!
My other top tip for this process was something I discovered by accident (though probably linked to my Google searches), which was a course run by the Professional Writing Academy on Custody and Interviewing. It was run by an ex-detective, and CWA member, Graham Bartlett, who was incredibly patient about all my stupid questions, and trying to bend my plot around fact. As part of the course, he reviewed a chapter and made comments. After that, I also sent him a few more chapters to review and ended up doing an hour’s Zoom with him so he could advise me on the final mind-bending plot points. Needless to say, the money I spent on this guidance was cheap in many ways because it made the novel about a million times better. Though, there is free guidance out there if you ask and seek it out!
Lastly, I was lucky enough to have several beta readers who, quite rightfully, asked me loads of questions and wanted clarification. Never underestimate the worth of a general reader who is coming fresh to your story, who will pick up on things you forgot about in draft three out of two hundred.
I think it’s important to remember that you shouldn’t let a task such as making something more credible and better researched prevent you from creating – take it piece by piece, fact by fact, and you’ll get there! I felt overwhelmed at first but I got there and you will too!
Nikki Dudley is the author of two psychological thrillers. Volta won the Virginia Prize for Fiction 2020 and was published by Aurora Metro Books in May 2021. She is the editor of streetcake magazine and also runs a writing programme for mums, MumWrite.
You can find out more about Nikki Dudley and her books here.
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