Did you ever have a fabulous idea for a book in a particular genre and then realize that you didn’t couldn’t ‘speak the language’? By that I mean, you simply didn’t have the vocabulary to write the dialogue for an FBI agent, for example. Or an equestrian. A circus performer. An old-time Vaudevillian.
Unfortunately, there will be people who pick up your books only to close them unfinished if you try to bluff your way through. If your characters aren’t authentic, then neither is your plot. You’ve heard the old adage, “You are what you read.” I submit that your characters are what they say, and if they use the wrong words, they’re toast.
I’ve been playing around with a ‘cozy’ mystery, the first of what I hope to make a series of six. Many of the characters will carry over from one book to the next, so if they don’t come across as the real thing in book #1, why would a reader go on to book #2? I began to write a main character who is undercover with the FBI, and I hadn’t written much before I realized I had no clue what I was doing. Therefore, in the story, neither did he!
So it was off to the friendly local library. (And mine is extraordinarily friendly and helpful, btw.) First stop, the computerized ‘card catalogue’. Keywords such as ‘FBI’ and ‘undercover’ brought up several possibilities. I settled on The Last Undercover by Bob Hamer. Without reviewing the book, I’ll just say that I read it with a yellow legal pad and pen at hand, noting how he referred to various people, situations, etc. Rather than ‘carrying a gun’, he was ‘packing’, for example.
Nothing beats research for authentic characters, settings, plot, and dialogue. Yes, we read in many cases as an escape, and that’s fine. But if you’re writing about ‘real’ people, they need to walk the walk and talk the talk. Otherwise, speaking as a reader rather than a writer, I don’t have time to figure it all out. Tell me. Better still, show me.
IMO—the best resource is research.