15 September 2012

Know what you write

No, I didn’t title this incorrectly. Everyone knows the old adage that writers have thrown at them when they begin. I’m not bothering to repeat that old cliché because I don’t feel it valid advice. Besides, I suspect that the cliché was spoken in a non-English language and translated incorrectly.

In this day of the internet, where hundreds of millions of facts are available at your fingertips, you can learn a lot more than in the “olden days.”

So instead, I want to point your pen in a different direction. It’s easy to do a little research, to find things to make your story more realistic or to correct that nagging mistake. Wikipedia offers a wonderful starting point. (Note I don’t say use it for the only source of information.) If you use your favorite search engine, you could find local experts in the field that could talk with you.

Think about this. How many people talk about dropping out of a story because some fact the writer included just doesn’t jive with what they know? Everyone has a base field, even if it covers mundane things like house cleaning. If someone gets that field wrong, a reader will know.

I admit, I’ve been listening to some writing podcasts recently. www.writingexcuses.com offers some great advice to writers. In one of their more recent episodes (Season 7, episode 17) they have a guest and they discuss guns in fiction. This same concept I’m writing above, they cover in detail with regard just to guns. So imagine how many other subjects could cause a stir, if you use the wrong phrase or name an item wrong.

While I definitely encourage research, I also advocate knowing when to stop.

If you have three sources that tell you the same thing, most likely you’ve found the correct fact and can move on. Three conflicting viewpoints might require a little additional research to solidify one position. Just be careful not to get so caught in the research that you never write!

Research is just one aspect of our calling. We are, after all, writers.

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