Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Do Your Research

If you don't research your subject or characters, you might have a mess to clean up. Like me.
I wrote a beginning scene with a cop hero, only now to discover that so many things in that scene must be changed because they don't fit with the rules of the profession.

What kind of research have you done for your stories? In what area of life are you an expert?

36 comments:

Gwen Stewart said...

Oh vey, Jessica, do I know what you mean. I am writing a scenario that, to my knowledge, has never happened. I contacted some folks in the field and they all said, "Well it COULD happen but never has". So I have to figure out the steps in the plot if the unlikely were ever to take place.

Then hope that it comes off as believable. Yikes!


Best wishes with your story. Sounds great! Have a wonderful Wednesday.

Sherrinda said...

I wrote a medieval, so I checked out a bunch of books from the library about life during that time. I am sure I don't have it all right, but being that far back in time, surely there is a little license in the details. :)

Jessica Nelson said...

Thanks Gwen! I'm glad I'm not the only one who does this. lol

Sherrinda, you were smart! Probably saved yourself some plot holes. :-)

Jennifer Shirk said...

I have an opening in a scene of my new book that involves someone calling the police on my heroine's date. I had to call my brother who is a retired police officer and ask him what the offense could be that could have the guy arrested without it being too serious. He gave me some great examples!

Wendy Paine Miller said...

I love having a police officer and a fire marshal at our church. That came in handy for research in my last novel. I spoke with them on the phone during several chunky sessions to make sure my facts were straight.

I felt so much better having spoken to them that I was doing justice to my scenes.
~ Wendy

Donna M. Kohlstrom said...

I try to stick to what I know when I write a story, but there are times when I like to branch out into other areas. That requires lots of research.

I recently wrote a police/murder/mystery story and interviewed a police officer, a physician (regarding bullet wounds) and spent hours on the internet. I found that what I thought were the correct facts for my story weren't!

Even though research is time consuming, it is important for credibility. I know that readers will pick up the smallest error and either let you know or stop reading and not want to pick up one of your stories again.

Linda Glaz said...

I have quite a few friends across diff spectrums and find that when I run into trouble, I drop one of them a line and see if the story has enough elements to allow for detail in that profession or lifestyle and then adjust the it accordingly to make it as accurate as possible. My story Attack Zone is a romantic suspense about a conservative female talk show host and I called the Detroit Christian station and spoke with the producer of their talk show. She was kind enough to show me around the station so I could see how it actually worked and then she allowed me almost an hour of Q&A. I was able to learn more about that industry and it helped add authenticity to the story. Take the chance and ask for help. The most someone will do is say no.

Linda Glaz said...

Oh yeah, Jess. Also, ACFW has a wonderful site which lists "experts" and individuals who have unique jobs can be found there and are willing to discuss scenarios. That helps also to get more than one perspective on an area in which one might not have knowledge.

Jeanette Levellie said...

Great question!

Although I write nf devotionals based on true stories, I'm beginning to do more research, so I don't embellish too much! I think I might be a fiction writer in disguise...

Diane said...

I am an expert from the different jobs I've had in my life. If you need to know about waitressing or office work, then I'm your gal. :O)

Linda Kage said...

Expert? Ha. Sadly, I don't think I'm an expert at anything. But I did do the same thing as you, and it was with a cop scene too! Thank goodness my hubby didn't read it before I made my changes; he'd be so embarrassed to be married to me.

Kelly Freestone said...

Oooo...love all the tips!
I'm researching by reading another novel about loss right now...I'm very thankful I don't have first hand knowledge about loss, but I'm sure I'm going to have a few tear-fests.
lol
Good luck with you WIP's!

Melissa said...

Oh man, having to go back and fix all that must be brutal! But your MS will be better for it, in the end.

I'm still young (almost 21) but I've been through a lot of junk in my life so far, I've experienced so many emotions and found myself in horrible situations - all of that gets exorcised in my writing. That's the only thing I think I'm an expert on - my life experiences. So my characters, well they required no research.

On the other hand, my MC is a bit of a history buff, so I need to learn a lot more about that (luckily my university classes help me with this!) and I researched RUnes and ancient languages pretty heavily as well as a variety of weapons. And Coats of Arms.

I did a lot more research than I thought I did. Huh. I've surprised myself.

Good luck with your research!

Cindy said...

Usually I only research settings for my novels but the one I'm working on right now, my MC is a glass blower and I knew NOTHING about that. I read a whole technique manual on glass blowing and then talked to my sisters boyfriend, who recently started glass blowing in his spare time.

anita said...

I'm an expert in overwriting then having to unwrite--HA. And I'm also pretty good at imagining worlds of fantasy. ;-)

And yeah, I always have to research some. Even the book I'm writing now which is a contemporary YA, I had to do some research.

Hope you're having a great day, Jessie!

Patti said...

Even though I write YA fantasy there's still research to be done. I think every book takes some fact checking.

Deb Shucka said...

The biggest thing with writing memoir is to get the cultural markers right and to make sure the timeline doesn't contradict itself. The internet is invaluable for that.

I know as a reader, nothing annoys me more than an author getting something wrong - for me it's often things in the natural world that catch my eye.

Jolene said...

My husband has been a cop and now is a prosecutor, came in very handy on one of my WIPs. I read on some unknown site not long ago that if you're going to stretch what could happen, make sure you acknowledge that it's far fetched. I like the idea that flying dragons are cool in a world with flying dragons but a girl standing on the side of the street in New York is not going to get the first cab that drives by.
Fortunately for me, I love research.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Jess -

While editing my first manuscript, a boss talked about his experiences visiting Washington, D.C. I thought I knew the facts, but discovered a lot of the rules changed after 9/11. It's always good to double check your information.

I also read articles, newspapers, books, and anything else that will make my stories accurate.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Genny said...

Been there, done that! But, isn't writing all about revision, anyway... lol? :)

Hugs!

Stephanie said...

I try my best but I am always afraid that I haven't done enough!

I read a book not too long ago and some of it was based near my home town. The author described a bush outside a house...a gardenia bush...it is WAY too cold here for one of those to ever survive! I attended a workshop at a writers conference and the author talked about the emails she received about a scene in her book. Something as simple as the MC pumping gas. Well, apparently the state this happened in, it is illegal to pump your own gas. I would have never thought to look into somehting like that!!

Jessica Nelson said...

Oooh, Jennifer! Lucky you!

Wendy, I'm sure you did feel better. I need to talk to someone too. That's really cool how they sat and talked with you.

Donna, wow, good for you! You're so right about credibility too. Your story sounds intriguing!

Jessica Nelson said...

Linda, I didn't know that about ACFW, thank you so much! Yeah, you do have tons of cool contacts. I thought it was great that you went and did a tour of the station.

Going to join the fiction club, Jeanette? :-) I think you'd probably come up with something hilarious!

Diane, lol! I'd really love to learn how to use spreadsheets...

Jessica Nelson said...

Linda K, I'm not an expert in anything either. And I know what you mean about embarrassment...

Hi Kelly, thanks for stopping by! I'm glad loss isn't something you're close to but sounds like you're being smart with your research. :)

Melissa, brutal AND depressing. LOL So you're only 21? That's SO awesome that you've already started writing. Your research sounds fascinating! And I'm sorry about the junk you've gone through but isn't it great how even the bad things can *sometimes* serve a purpose? I hope your writing goes well and that good comes from the bad that's happened to you.

Jessica Nelson said...

Wow, he does glassblowing? Cindy, that's pretty interesting!

Oh Anita, lol, you are NOT an expert in overwriting. :-) But you do have an incredible imagination!

Patti, I think you're right. :-)

Jessica Nelson said...

Deb, a friend wants me to help him write his memoir. You sound like you know how to do it. I might hae to e-mail you for advice!

Jolene, lucky you to have information right on hand! :-) Thanks for stopping by.

Susan, that sounds like an invaluable experience!

Jessica Nelson said...

Genny, must you remind me??? LOL I always like to pretend my first draft is close to perfect. *wink*

Me too, Stephanie. It is tough because we do as much research as we can but sometimes there are questions we just don't know to ask.
How can it be illegal to pump your own gas? Craziness... lol

Lynn said...

Dental. I'm an expert in dental particularly dental assisting, but don't know how I would use the knowledge of root canals, and amalgam in my stories! If you ever have a dental question, I may be able to answer it for you!

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

My last novel had a lot of historical connections, so I spent a lot of time looking at timelines.

Diane J. said...

See, this is why I have to read everyone's blogs. I learn. I haven't done any research yet, because I'm afraid of two things. 1) What if I call someone and get all the information I need and the book never gets published? Will they ever answer questions for me again? Will they think I'm a hack?

2) Okay, I have a family member (brother-in-law to be exact) who could answer my questions. But, will they think I'm a failure if I don't get the book published? Will they laugh at me? I don't think they'd laugh, but it's still a worry.

Why am I so afraid? It's my first attempt at a book and as much as I love the concept (there are many days, I think it's horrible, too) I don't expect much. I don't mind that it may never see the light of a printer's machine, I just want to write it. I want to try and learn and grow. Maybe, by my second book, I'll have visions of publishers dancing through my head. But for now, it's a learning process. I've read many books, I've attended conferences, now I have to try.

As for what I'm an expert in, I guess customer service would be one. I'm an expert in parenting boys and twins. Okay, expert through trial and error.

Now if I can just work up the courage to research what I need. Just because I don't expect this book to go anywhere doesn't mean I want to do a half-hearted job, I really want to give it my all.

Jill Kemerer said...

Oh, I hear you! I know nothing about policemen! We had one do a Q & A at our RWA group last month, and it was so helpful.

Nancy said...

I could swing elementary teacher without looking things up, but most professions, I'd need a lot of research.

patti said...

Great post, Jessica!
TONS of research!
Oh, my, still digging into China.
Went over there with seven books, came home with three more!

Beginning to catch on to a few things.

Hmmm. An expert on nothing here.
Know a bit about teaching, geology, parenting, marriage, being a rebel in the 60s, running...I'll stop there.
A jackal of a few trades, master of none!!!

P

Glynis said...

One of my characters killed another. Then I noticed the 'dead' character, kissing a female further along the chapters...missed that one big time! LOL

Dara said...

I have to research everything. :P

My books are a completely different culture--and time--so there's A LOT of fact checking to do. I know I'm messing it up and I'll probably never get everything right culturally since I'm not Japanese, but I just keep on trying to get as close to accurate as possible.

I don't think I'm an expert on anything in life. :P

Aly said...

Thanks for your comments about research, Jessie. You are certainly right... I feel bad,but as a doctor, if I read something that has obvious medical errors, it DOES lose credibility with me. If you ever need to run a medical scene by me,let me know! :) That being said, I know it is time consuming,and there is a lot of incorrect information on the Internet.