SCENE IN AN ORGANIC MARKET
“Excuse me, my name is Saylor Billings and I write a mystery series called The O Line Mysteries. I’m working out a plot just now and I just have a couple quick questions if you have a moment.”
“Is there a way I could murder someone with your organic beans?”
“Well sure, I’ve actually thought about that a lot…”
Coming up with original and inventive ways to create mayhem on the page is really a part time job. Imagined conversations, motives, underlying meanings all make for a rich interior life and if you can get it on the page all the better. There are also plenty of writer’s murder manuals out there as well. But there is always a point when you, as a writer, are standing in a store – be it a hardware shop, florist, or whatever – and it dawns on you that maybe your protagonists can defend themselves with duct tape.
I would love to write a series called the Duct Tape Mysteries. It would be about the protagonists in a bad situation and each time all they have is a roll of duct tape to save the day. But that’s not my point…
My point is you’ll have to have the conversation with someone (probably someone who, up until that moment, is a complete stranger). And you need to do it without sounding like a complete lunatic or an actual criminal. As writers we aren’t exactly the most gregarious group of social butterflies but there are a few guidelines to help guide you through until it becomes second nature.
Here’s what I do: first of all, I don’t worry about what people think of me or my crazy questions. But with that in mind I am respectful of other people’s time. Don’t bug someone if they’re in the middle of something. If someone looks busy I just introduce myself and ask if I may come back later to ask them a couple of questions about their work or product or whatever. If you are in a hurry don’t put that burden on someone else.
Secondly, don’t argue with them. I only say this because I’ve seen another writer do it. They actual called a travel agent, introduced themselves, asked their plot question and then proceeded to argue about the answer. (Ooof, some people have no shame.) But my original second point was: Secondly, try asking open-ended questions. Such as I was going to have a character work in a dog food factory and I’m wondering what type of background you look for in your employees who make up the ingredients? Is it biology or chemistry or animal sciences?
Third, thank them for spending time with you and sharing their knowledge. Whether or not they’ve been helpful. Whether or not they’ve answered your questions. If they’ve gone out of their way or inadvertently saved your bacon in some way - always thank them in the book.