Q is for Quacksalver

I know a few writers who hate to make things up – yes; I can see the irony too – what they really mean is they hate to add things to their novels that aren’t technically accurate. They strive for truthfulness so much that they will actually refuse to write a scene until they know how the exact mechanics of every single item will work. They want details right down to the bone.

So what, you say? Just let them go do some research? Fair enough – if that’s what they actually did, but most of them will just sit around moaning they can’t possibly know about such things. What does a lowly accountant know of tracking down demons and evil spirits? How could a simple cashier understand the insurmountable pain of a climber injured, exposed, and suffering from frostbite? And how the hell can a middle-aged primary school teacher identify with her nineteen year old, lesbian stripper, named Peaches? There just isn’t enough research time…waahh!

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, gather round, gather round. I would like to introduce you to a marvellous elixir, capable of curing the most stubborn of writers, one-hundred percent guaranteed to heal all obstinate obstacles in your novel, yes siree…the breath-taking, awe-inspiring, wonderful, remarkable, restorative power of this liquid remedy will have you speeding through tough scenes in no time. No more worrying about accuracy or technical details…no siree! May I present to you the amazing curative powers of snake oil!”

A quacksalver is a person who falsely claims to have knowledge of medicine. And this is exactly what you need to be if you want to get past that annoying problem of not being a nineteen year old lesbian stripper that tracks down demons, and once lost four toes to frostbite in the Arctic Circle. Honestly, just rub a bit of snake oil on your keyboard and you’ll be back to writing like a pro in no time.

A quacksalver makes a career out of selling lies to the public. Sound familiar? Your customers are stood there right now, gathering around you, eager for your lies but you’re sitting at your computer worrying about what colour neon sign to use for your strip club ‘Booby Trap’, or what type of sleeping bag the toeless climber would use. Stop worrying about making your novel reflect exactly how things would be in real life. Readers are willing to suspend their disbelief, to a degree, for a damn good story.

That’s the part you should be concentrating on…writing a damn good story!

So slather your writing with curious potions, rub some powerful potions into the words, and shout from the rooftops about the amazing curative powers of snake oil!


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  1. As always fantastic advice.

    Isn’t it funny how JK Rowling wrote a multimillion best selling book series, and yet she never has been, nor never will be, a boy wizard!!

    How did she do it?!

    With conviction, belief in what she was writing, and enough truth to make the “lie” convincing.

  2. Now that word I like. Quacksalver. Of course, ones lies still have to be logical after that first suspension of disbelief, as I discovered when writing fantasy. In fact, the imagined facts slide around on the plate of fiction like Quicksilver.

  3. I can’t make shit up as a nonfiction writer, even with “creative” in front of it. I wish I could. Things would go a lot faster. I envy all of you fiction writers!

  4. “Quacksalver” Perfectly describes all those problem solving hawkers in the 19th, 20th and 21st Centuries. Love it!!
    My ‘Q’ was, Question, with a twist!
    Kathy at Oak Lawn Images

  5. I love how you used such a great word as quacksalver and compared it to writing. 🙂

  6. Excellent word. And here I thought you’d simply confused the A and I keys again…

    Wait wait wait, Peaches is a six-toed, demon-hunting lesbian stripper? But that means… the lowly accountant, simple cashier, and middle-aged primary school teacher are (gasp!) all the same person! Mind officially blown. That’s a damn good story.

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