Thursday, October 7, 2010

Know What You Write

We've all heard the saying, "Write What You Know", but this one's a little different. You don't have to write what you know, as long as you know what you write. And how do you do that?


The Book Academy Writing Conference presenter Sarah M. Eden talk all about it. Sarah's the author of several romance novels based in London in the Regency Era (her most recent is Courting Miss Lancaster). Since Sarah has neither been to London, nor has she lived in the early eighteen-hundreds, she had to resort to the painstakingly grueling job of doing research. Lucky for her, and us, she loves it, and even majored in it.

Doing research can be boring. It can be intimidating. We tend to procrastinate doing it, so we can spend our time on something fun. But we have to do it.

Feel the Research Love:
  • Every book of fiction requires some research. EVERY SINGLE ONE!
  • Don't give your readers a reason to hate you, by getting things wrong.
  • You don't want to look like an idiot (who does?).
  • While researching, you just might come across ideas for another book!
Foundational Research provides background and backbone of the setting, characterization, historical/cultural content.
  • language and wording
  • knowledge base of characters
  • words they would/would not use
  • philosophies
  • world views
  • demographics
  • geography
  • feel and time of place
Itemized Research provides specifics.
  • order/location of events
  • dates/times
  • disease/injuries/treatments
  • specific procedures
  • account of events
There are two types of SOURCES.

Primary Sources (more reliable):
  • provide firsthand accounts/info
  • this includes videos and photographs
Secondary Sources (less reliable):
  • these are at least one step removed
  • textbooks, someone who heard the story, history books
When thinking about using material you found, consider a few things.
  • Read about the author. Are they qualified to teach you?
  • Look at the bibliography. It needs to site more reliable (Primary) sources.
  • Can you back it up? Find it in at least 2 different places.
Be careful about what you use from the internet.
  • digitized libraries
  • websites run by museums, libraries, special-interest organizations
  • copyrights and citations are often ignored
  • no guarantee of accuracy
If there was one thing that Sarah wanted us to remember at the end of the class, I think it would be this:

Wikipedia is NOT a source. EVER!
(seriously, she made us repeat this out loud!)

Wikipedia is a great starting place. Don't stop there!

Tips of the Trade

Plan ahead. Decide before you start what you want to know, why, where you plan to look for it.
Set aside time for researching! The research may change the outcome of the story.
Learn (from primary sources) how the people feel about what they see. Emotionally connect, so your readers will too.
Ask People who are experts on the topic you're researching.
Keep a File or resources you used in the past. Chances are good that you'll need them again.

Sarah promised that if you do your research:

Your work will improve. Guaranteed!
(Now, who doesn't want that?)

So go, research what you've been avoiding for the past six months. (I'm talking to you Kim!)

Next up: Self Editing


L.T. Elliot said...

I have a love/hate relationship with research. I hate getting started but I love what I learn so much that I sometimes get too absorbed and forget to write! ;)

Janet Johnson said...

The need for research always sneaks in, and my critique partners always catch it. I might as well just do it to begin with. :)

MT said...

I haven't researched research so intently before. :)
I admit, I always start with WIKI because without it, I can't think of where to go.