Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Using Readers for Accuracy in Writing: Or How Not to Get a Tattoo by Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers

Today, The Writing Sisters, Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers, talk about a unique way in which they researched their novel. -- Sandy

Betsy and Laurie: During our research we discovered that Psalm 23 is the most tattooed Bible verse. We wanted to write a story about a woman in a tattoo parlor and show how an encounter with Psalm 23 could change her life. We’ve done a lot of crazy things in the name of art - ridden roller coasters and gone SCUBA diving with sharks - but we didn’t want to add getting a tattoo to the list.  So how could we get the details? We sat down with a friend who has multiple tattoos, who later became a reader for that story. 

When we use readers, we can send the story or scene to them and they write back their thoughts, or we discuss the scene with them over the phone. This time the tattoo chapter was finished and we read it aloud to the friend in person line by line, discussing the story as we went. What does it smell like? What do you hear?  What would the tattoo artist do first? What would he say? What would be on the wall? We sat with her writing in the details that would make the story rich and believable.

In The Shepherd’s Song, a copy of Psalm 23 travels around the world impacting people of different cultures. We wanted the book to be true in the details of each culture. For that truth we used many different readers. One story was about a young Moslem girl, encountering Psalm 23 as she and her family fled to Turkey. We wanted to be accurate. We sent the story to a man we know who lives in Lebanon. He and his brother were refugees, and he understood the culture. He validated the story and gave helpful tips about how the father would act toward his daughter.

Neither of us has visited China, yet one of our stories take place in Chongqing, featuring a Chinese medical student. Again we met with a young man who worked for ten years in China with university students. He added valuable cultural details to the first draft of our story, and then read the finished story for an additional cultural critique.

A veteran who had served in the Middle East, a man from a large Italian family, a friend who is a flight attendant, a local doctor, a dental student from Kenya. A cast of readers added depth and accuracy to The Shepherd’s Song’s many stories.

Readers add authenticity to stories and make the details richer and accurate. They expand our worlds and our ability to connect with readers. Sometimes they even save us from getting tattoos.

Have you ever run your story by readers who have experience with something you don't? What is the oddest thing you've researched?


Follow the incredible journey of one piece of paper—a copy of Psalm 23—as it travels around the world, linking lives and hearts with its simple but beautiful message.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures…

Shortly before a tragic car accident, Kate McConnell wrote down the powerful words of Psalm 23 on a piece of paper for her wayward son. Just before she loses consciousness, Kate wonders if she’s done enough with her life and prays, “Please, let my life count.”

Unbeknownst to Kate, her handwritten copy of Psalm 23 soon begins a remarkable journey around the world. From a lonely dry cleaning employee to a soldier wounded in Iraq, to a young Kurdish girl fleeing her country, to a Kenyan runner in the Rome Invitational marathon, this humble message forever changes the lives of twelve very different people. Eventually, Kate’s paper makes it back to its starting place, and she discovers the unexpected ways that God changes lives, even through the smallest gestures.

With beautiful prose evocative of master storyteller Andy Andrews’s The Butterfly Effect, this story will touch your heart and remind you of the ways God works through us to reach beyond what we can imagine. 

The Writing Sisters, Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers were born into a writing family, and began critiquing manuscripts at an early age for their mother, Newbery winner Betsy Byars. They went on to become authors of more than thirty-five children’s novels. Their first book for adults, The Shepherd’s Song, is being released in paperback April 2015.

You can connect with Laurie and Betsy on their monthly newsletter where they send out updates and their popular free devotional books. Contact them at and find them on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.

Grab your copy of The Shepherd’s Song here.