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How to Find a Subject Matter Expert for Your Magic


We’ve covered the basics of using Subject Matter Expertise for your magic and some of the pros and cons of its use. If you’re still reading this mini-series, then you have probably decided to build a magic system around the structure of a specific subject matter. And if you are 100% convinced you want to do this, then you are going to need an expert.

But where do you find one?

Well, there are only three options: Yourself, the people you know, and the people you don’t know. Let’s look at these one at a time

Expert Option #1: Yourself

We talked about this a bit before; you don’t have to be a genius to be a subject matter expert (or SME), and you certainly don’t have to be best at something to get value from it. The trick to using yourself as a SME is to take a long, decerning look at your background and assess what you know and what you love, because, as I’ve said before, anything can serve as the subject matter for your magic

Step 1) Start with your career history

Are you a still a full-time pheasant wrangler, or have you transitioned to the lucrative business of trading rusty bottlecaps to those strange vault-dwellers? What parts of your job are unique? Sure, some of what you do is boring and mundane, but there is always some knowledge, lingo, or skills that others won’t be familiar with.

Personally, I rely heavily on my engineering and science background as the basis for much of my magic, not because it’s the only thing I want to do, but because I’ve spent over a decade learning and developing my expertise in those areas. That’s what is easiest for me to adapt and use.

What about you? Do you see any interesting expertise in your career history?

Of course you do! That’s because you’re an interesting person! Maybe it’s not quite what you’re looking for. Even if you’re positive nothing in your professional background will suffice, don’t give up on yourself just yet.

Step 2) Shift your focus to your hobbies and passions.

As I said, most of my magic to date has centered on my love and experience with science in its various form, but that’s not all I want to do. At some point, I plan to use my childhood (and current) obsession with wilderness survival, martial arts, and blacksmithing as the foundation for separate magic systems.

Examine how you spend your free time. What hobbies are you currently engaged in? Have you done any others in the past? Are there some you would love to try in the future? Those non-fiction books you read to death as a kid, what were they about?

Find that passion, that thing you love hearing and talking about. This will make excellent subject matter for your magic; if you love learning about it, the next step will be much easier

Step 3) Analyze Your Level of Expertise

What do you know about your chosen topics?

If you already know a lot, then things just got a lot easier. There’s no real reason you can’t jump straight to identifying your Stage 0 and get moving.

Stage 0 of Building Marvelous Magic Systems

Stage 0 of Building Marvelous Magic Systems: Where to Start Building

But what if you only know a little or nothing at all?

Here’s the really awesome thing, if you aren’t a SME yet you can still become one. There are lots of ways you can grow your knowledge-base to become the expert your system needs. Start by identifying what you do know and what you need to know. If you don’t know what you need to know, that’s okay too; there are lots of ways to solve this problem.

The “easiest” option here is to dive nose-first into researching the topic. Find sources, hunt down books, and put your grey cells to work on the task. The level of expertise needed varies from system to system, but you probably don’t need as much as you think. You don’t need to have a bachelor’s degree in chemistry to make some an awesome chemistry based magic system.

If you’re having a hard time with the research or, like me, respond well to a structured approach to learning, consider taking a class somewhere. Doesn’t matter if it’s online (Udemy, Khan Academy, Ted Talks), at your local community college, or just going through a textbook a chapter at a time with a friend.

When you can manage it, being the subject matter expert for your own system is the most desirable choice. When that isn’t an option, because the topic is too complex or you simply don’t have the time or energy to learn, that’s when you should look elsewhere.

Expert Option #2: Friends and Family

If you took the time to scrutinize your past, it was probably a bit surprising how much you know. However many hidden areas of expertise you found in your jobs and hobbies, you can find just as many in the jobs and hobbies of others.

So ask around. See what weird things your friend and family do for fun and profit. I’m sure you will be surprised by the strange things they know. Granted, probing into your minds of your friends and families heads like a maggot hunting for unconsumed flesh can be a little awkward. But once you find the right topic, I’m sure they will forgive you… probably

Oh, and be careful what questions you ask because there are some things you can’t unlearn.

You have been warned.

Aside from any uncomfortable silences and disturbing revelations, turning to people you already have in your life really is the next best option for finding a subject matter expert.

Why? Because they already like you! … I hope.

You really shouldn’t be bothering them at this point if they don’t like you. You want to surround yourself with people that support your efforts even if they don’t really understand them, but that’s another topic. And if all your friends are jerks, then get a stuffed animal. Stuffed animals rock!

If you tap into your social network to find your expert, you will be well rewarded. Not only will you have the knowledge you need, but this will often deepen the relationship between you and the person in question. If they’re writers like you, then you get to work together on projects and bask in your mutual passions. Even if they aren’t writers, it’s a fun way to let them into your world. It gives provides common ground for you to explore and learn about each other as much as the new topic.

Once you find a willing friend, be sure to go through the same four steps you did with yourself. Something awesome should turn up.

But what if you don’t have the knowledge you need and neither do any of the people you know?

That’s when you need to turn your search to option three.

Expert Option #3: People You Don’t Know

Is that too obvious? Sorry, but it’s really the only place left to go. Don’t worry, there are tons of ways to skin this proverbial expert— CAT… I mean cat.

Where you need to start looking depends heavily upon the subject matter you choose. If you need something more academic in nature, such as anthropology or nuclear physics, then college professors, high school teachers, and graduate students are a great place to start. If you want more esoteric knowledge, like street smarts, primitive flint-knapping, or running scams, you’ll need to a bit more creative in finding your expert.

There are, however, several resources you should consider.

Find a Local Business or Artisan

If you were surprised by what you and your friends no, then brace your brain for spontaneous combustion when you hit the internets. Take an hour or two. See who is in your area and what they do.

If you’re not having much luck online, go to talk to your local librarian. In my experience, they usually have connections you would never dream of. Also, consider going to your local chamber of commerce and see what groups and organizations are listed in your town. There are all sorts of ways to find experts around you.

Whoever you decide to contact, remember that you are an author. That is your secret weapon. Everyone likes to feel smart and share what they know, but when you say you’re writing a novel and want to get the details right… some people practically trip over themselves in a rush to help you. Apparently, some authors have walked into banks and gotten detailed information about all the security systems without even breaking a sweat.

Crazy awesome, right?

If you can’t find anyone local to suit your needs, then expand your search. There are so many ways you can find and connect with people. Check nearby universities and community colleges. Find an expert in a nearby city and email them. Go back to your local librarian and see what they have to say on the topic. Find a book on the subject matter and reach out to the author. Identify your target’s domicile and release the hypnotizing fruit-flies. Just try things out until something works.

Whatever you do, remember that not everyone will want to work with you, and that’s okay.

Don’t Take the Rejection Personally

Everyone is busy and some people just won’t be interested in what you’re working on. There’s nothing wrong with that. Move to the next person on your list and try again. When that doesn’t work, consider again the possibility of becoming the expert. If you’re really striking out and you just can’t wrap your head around the topic, consider building another magic system until you do connect with the expert you need.

Now You Know Where to Find Your SME!

In Summary

Expert Option #1: You

Look into Your Career History

Sift Through Your Hobbies and Passions

Analyze Your Level of Expertise

Consider Teaching Yourself

Expert Option #2: Friends and Family

You’ll be Surprised by What They Know

They Already Like you

Expert Option #3: People You Don’t Know

Find a Local Business or Artisan

Be Sure to Tell Them You’re a Writer

Don’t Take Rejection Personally

By now it should be clear that subject matter experts are all around us, and sometimes they are us.

Whatever you do, remember that these are people and not just tools. Be sure to thank them and provide assistance in kind where you can without damaging your own career, relationships, or livelihood. Treat them right and you’ll probably have a new reader, maybe even a life-long friend.

That’s all for today

Thanks again for coming by. I wish I could give you more on this, but it’s very difficult to give detailed suggestions without discussing very specific topics and situations. Still, if you enjoyed this post, be sure to share with your friends.

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If you’re really excited about building magic systems, consider joining the Marvelous Magic Builder’s Mailing List. Join up now and receive a flute carved from the bones of your favorite historical figure (while supplies last and I remain at least one step ahead of the authorities). If the flutes are out of stock, you will still receive monthly updates from me and notifications each time a new post goes live. I’ve got a lot of projects, giveaways, and services I’m planning for in the future, and those on the mailing list will be the first to know. Whether you make the leap or not, we’ll talk again soon.

Rowenson, out.

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