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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Asking an expert

   
Author Topic: Asking an expert
MartinV
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Every writer needs to research. If we come up against unknown territories, we ask people we know. There's been many talks on this forum about problems with physics or chemistry and such.

How about asking a real expert? You can read in the afterword of many books how the author thanks an expert for being there to supply knowledge. How does one ask an expert to help? Can only successful writers ask for expert's advice or can any of us do it as well?


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walexander
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I ask experts all the time, but usually until your established you have trouble getting their attention, because they either don't want to talk about work, or don't want to talk to a person that has no clue. So it pays to do your own basic research first and then talk to them so that they know you're grasping the basics.

I believe some experts that are brought in are actually from the editor to confirm whats being said in your writing. If your lucky enough to know or get in good relations with an expert in a field your writing about, then I say, that's a keeper.

This is just my basic understanding, the Titan's here can probably give you a more in depth detail of how it works.

W.


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goldhawk
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"How does one ask an expert to help?"

Probably the easiest way is to find a forum on the subject matter. Like asking for writing advice on Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

"Can only successful writers ask for expert's advice or can any of us do it as well?"

Anyone can ask if you find them. Also, have patience; they may not be able to get back to you right away.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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MartinV, you're in the US now, right?

If there is a college or university near by, go see if you can talk to any of the professors in the field you're interested in. There should be someone there who would be happy to talk to an interested writer.


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MAP
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I second KDW about going to a university. You can find an expert in just about every area, and I think a lot of them would be happy to help as long as you had a basic understanding of the subject and specific questions.

Definitely worth trying. Most universities have contact information on their websites.

But I do think it is a good idea to post a question on these forums. We are not just writers but experts in certain areas. You never know when one of us may have the expertise in the subject you are interested in.


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satate
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And if we don't know we might know someone who does.
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EP Kaplan
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Call on the various "X" majors you met in college. I'm student right now, and have a nasty habit of pestering my biology major friends. Or ask someone at a local museum, hospital, prison, whatever. Folks can be surprisingly eager to share what they know.
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Brendan
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We used to have some sort of expert register here at Hatrack, that is, people that work this board that also are experts in another field (or three). I remember helping at least one person develop the idea behind a story that fitted my expertise. I can happily say that the story got published (by the other person - I didn't co-write it).

KDW - do you know if that is still going?


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philocinemas
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I believe it spelunked.
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MartinV
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quote:
MartinV, you're in the US now, right?

Not until January.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Well, if you can't find experts who love to talk about their field of expertise now, you should be able to find plenty next year. For some reason, Americans seem to love to talk a lot more than people do in other countries (or so I've heard some people in other countries complain, at least).

philocinemas, it may have spelunked, but it's probably around somewhere. If someone else doesn't find it first, and "bump" it, I will.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Okay, doing a search for the word "expert" in the subjects only, I found:

http://www.hatrack.com/forums/writers/forum/Forum1/HTML/004207.html

http://www.hatrack.com/forums/writers/forum/Forum1/HTML/004863.html

http://www.hatrack.com/forums/writers/forum/Forum1/HTML/004866.html

all topics for asking experts here on the Hatrack River Writers Workshop forum.

I think I won't "bump" all three, but I did "bump" one of them.


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philocinemas
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Kathleen, I have an exceptional memory - read the last posts on the first thread you referenced.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Well, either you have an exceptional memory, philocinemas, or you looked up the expert topics first.
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philocinemas
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I promise - I didn't have to look it up. I don't always remember who said what, but I am very good at retaining the subjects of conversations and various trivial information. I sometimes lose technical info, but I remember the basic premises.
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Teraen
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Its easy!

1) Find the expert
2) Ask them

For instance, I work in the ER so I have easy access to a toxicologist. My current WIP opens up with a main character being poisoned. So I asked him:

"Hey tox guy, I'm writing a book and I need a cool way to poison somebody..."

Works great. As soon as people hear you are a writer, they are usually eager to help you with what you need. I would hesitate about calling universities though, because professors are usually really busy. Graduate students are good.

If you need real in depth research rather than just a question, try hiring a grad student to do it for you. You can pay them $50 or so to give you info on something (or whatever the going rate is for poor graduate students...)

I haven't needed it yet, but I am considering hiring an astronomer for a something I want to make as accurate as possible...


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Osiris
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Yes, just ask. You'd be surprised, a lot of scientists do actually like to talk about their work. I work at a genetics institute that brings a lot of disciplines together, and I feel that most are very approachable.

In fact, I'd say look for an institute that has community outreach programs (as ours does), that is usually a good sign that they have an open & sharing sort of culture there.


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JamieFord
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A good way to go about it is to do as much traditional research (reading) as you can. That way when you approach someone you'll be going into it with the idea of confirming or disproving your assumptions. That way you have a basis for discussion.
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KayTi
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I agree with Jamie and others who say to make sure you've done your own basic research first.

Then, call or email around. I've even helped people via things like Craigslist.

In graduate school, I had a killer professor on a project - we had a massive educational software program as our final project, and he was known for saying "this is crap. Why did you waste your time on this?" and other less-than-supportive statements.

I did a project with another grad student on Aztec culture and art. I read a bunch of books from the library, but for this educational software to work, I needed to interview (on camera) a number of experts in the field. So I called around.

The professor of mesoamerican studies at my own university gave me a lot of great pointers in a phone conversation, but was as I recall unable to meet in person. He gave me the names/numbers of some of the other professors in the area, though (always ask "Can you think of anyone else I could contact for this?")

I ended up interviewing a worldwide Mesoamerican expert who worked at the Mexican Fine Arts museum sometimes, a professor out of University of Chicago, and the curator (the curator!) of Mesoamerican Exhibits at the Art Institute of Chicago. The CURATOR! We did an interview, he showed me the incredible collection (wow, what an experience to have the curator take you through) and he took us back to a storage room where we were able to look at, photograph, and film a mask that was of supposed Olmec origin but turned out to be a high-class fake. It had been on display in the Art Institute for a number of years before the fakery had been discovered.

I'll never forget the expression on my professor's face during our middle of term preliminary presentation. I had placeholders for all of my interview subjects, with their names and titles below them. I hadn't digitized the video yet, so they were just black boxes with titles. He asked me if I had made up the names and titles or what, and I said that they were the actual people from those various institutions. His jaw dropped, he asked how I got them all to agree to participate. I said I called them. This was back in the day of the dinosaurs, before anyone had email. It's probably simpler nowadays (while simultaneously being harder, since many people don't post email addresses publicly, or oftentimes a public email address for a department just goes into a black hole. Or so it feels to me.)

At any rate - call, email, ask around. I'm sure you can find the right kind of expert to share their thoughts with you. I got a ton of support and I was just doing a graduate study project. Writing a book sounds WAAY cooler!


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Brendan
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Love that story, KayTi.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Quoting this in order to emphasize it:

quote:
(always ask "Can you think of anyone else I could contact for this?")

Do this.

The worst thing they can say is, "no," but if they give you a suggestion, they can include contact information, and they might even say, "tell them I sent you," so you have an "in" that you might not have otherwise.


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MartinV
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Mostly I would be interested in medical advice, particularly about physical trauma. I have some pretty violent scenes and I would really like to have details about effects on human body.
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TamesonYip
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Not really expert advice, but over at the nano boards, you can post questions and get people's responses. One I can think of was like "Anyone had their ribs broken- what does that feel like?" That was one I read and considered for my story at the time.
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Robert Nowall
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I said more-or-less the same thing last time: it would seem I know a little about a lot of things, a great deal about some things, but in no field am I an "expert."

Ultimately, it's "if you throw out a question to the boards, and if I know the answer, I'll answer it."


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Kimlin
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Probably an odd view but sometimes a book can be too well researched. I only do as much research as I need to write my words. I have always functioned that way though, at university I got much better marks if I researched after writing the essay because I didn't dump or get too specific.
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