It has struck me lately that we have to know what we are writing about. We must write with authenticity. I'm not saying that we have to write what we've experienced or even write about where we've lived or that kind of thing. I'm saying that we have to be able to render whatever we put on paper in such a way that it is completely authentic.
I've been reading a friend's MS this week and have been struck by the authenticity of it. It's set in the south and even though she's not from the south and has not lived in the south, it sounds completely authentic. (I'm from the south and can spot fake southern in a heartbeat.) She has a southern connection and she's done her research--reading journals, etc. That kind of thing makes a huge difference.
There is nothing that will pull me out of a story faster than reading something that I know is wrong. It's sloppy writing, and the author loses a bit of credibility with each mistake. I can overlook small things if there aren't too many, but if there's a flagrant mistake that even I recognize, I have been known to quit reading altogether and not buy things by that author again. It tells me that I can't trust anything they say.
Here's a quick example of something small. I was reading a book that had a supposed linguistic genius speaking in French, and I recognized that the French was not quite right. It was the sort of thing that made me not believe that the genius was as good as everyone made her out to be. (And that was not the author's intent at all.) I'll grant you that everyone out there doesn't have a Master's degree in French, but there are those who do, not to mention native speakers. This was a small distraction, but it did detract from the book. I didn't stop reading it because of this, and I actually enjoyed the book for the most part in spite of the flaws. I'm just saying we have to be careful.
When we don't have the expertise to know something for sure, we have to do our research. We have to call on experts. In my example above, the solution would have been simple: Have a native French speaker check over the French in the book. If you don't know one personally, check in with a French department at any university. Most people are really happy to help. They love sharing what they know. Plus, they could even get a "thank you" in your book.
I have some British people in my WIP. Now, I'm not British, and I've never lived in the UK, but I have done a fair amount of research, and I have a very kind British friend who is going to critique for me when I've finished rewriting to help me make sure that the Brits ring true--even to a Brit.
What do you think? What kinds of things do you do to help make your work authentic?