Thursday, February 21, 2013

Author Chat Friday with Delena Silverfox: Writers Who Don't Research

I'll admit, I do make up some facts; but there is a necessity for accuracy. This post is all about when facts that need to be accurate aren't researched... 

5 Reasons Why Pulling Details Out of Your Butt Does Not Make You a Writer! | Research for Fiction Writers

How many times have you heard something like this: “Well, it's not like I'm writing non-fiction. It's all fiction/fantasy/alternate-Earth/etc., anyway. I just make up what I need!”

Welcome to my Pet Peeve: Writers Who Don't Research.

Mark Twain said, “It's no wonder truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense!” (You might find references that Leo Rosten said that, but I first heard that Twain said it, so I'm stepping out of that debate!)

Reason the First: A story that doesn't make consistent, logical sense is lame. Even if your fictional world is on a different planet in a galaxy far, far away, in an alternate dimension, where everything is powered by pixie dust and hugs and puppies, your world still operates based on a set of rules. Develop those rules Make them as consistent as the laws of physics here on plain ol' Planet Earth.

Nothing ruins a good read faster than constantly having the characters pull some weird, new –and surprisingly convenient– solution out of their butt that nobody's ever heard of and which the author has never bothered to mention until now. Deus ex machina was a tool utilized by the ancient Greeks in their plays to show that the gods smiled upon the virtuous. People thought nothing of a character being whisked away to safety in the face of a sure demise. I think we can leave that plot device where it belongs: in ancient history.

Reason #2: Intelligent people read books, and intelligent people have BS meters. If you need to make something up, make sure you are first applying Rule the First, and then make sure it doesn't stretch believability so badly that you snag the fabric of your plot. There are certain things that will challenge a reader's suspension of belief simply because it's so “out there” it has no basis in reality.

“But wait! It's fiction! It's not real!” Well, hold your horses. You have created a reality for them. At the same time, they exist in this reality, and there are some things that just do not seem possible. Create at least some basis of your book in reality. For example, one of the pinnacles of science fiction in existence –Dune– is pretty whacked when you think about it. But it's based entirely on concepts we readily accept: artificial intelligence gone wrong, mind-altering substances, telepathy, telekenesis, giant mutant monsters a la 1950's monster movies.

Reason #3: Someone is going to know more than you.

It's inevitable. You might think you know a lot about costuming because you watch The Tudors and Pride and Prejudice all the time. You might think you know enough about genetic splicing because hey, it sounded good in Jurassic Park. And you might even know something about firarms or trial law because, hey, you've owned a gun since you were eight and you took pre-law at Harvard. And hey anyway, it doesn't matter if you're not exact, it's your own world and they just did things differently!

Yeah, but, you know what? Even fiction has similarities to the real world somewhere, or similarities to other fiction. People keep track of this stuff. They'll know when you did your research and then added your own flaire, and when it got pulled out of...well, you know. And then they'll let everyone know about how full of it you are, which leads to...

Reason #4: People are more likely to post negative reviews than positive ones. And not just negative, but scathing if you give them a reason to.

Psychologically and physiologically, we are actually built to remember more negative experiences than positive ones. Negative experiences require more processing in the brain, so we think about it more. Back in our hunter/gatherer days, survival required stronger and more immediate reactions to possible negative outcomes. We obsess over the subpar events in our lives purely because they are out of the ordinary, and we then have to go over all of the reasons why it's out of the ordinary. If you have bad logic or obviously fake detail in your book, a reader has an awful lot of time to be sitting around thinking, “This sure is a crappy book!”

Teresa Amabile, director of research over at Harvard Business School, found that the power of a setback to increase frustration is over three times as strong as the power of something to decrease frustration. So respect your readers, and don't give them reason to be frustrated with you because you couldn't be bothered to research. Your ratings and reviews will thank you for it.

Reason #5: Writing is a science every bit as much as it's an art form. And science has rules. Lots of rules. Learn them. Live them. Love them. Find which rules you can manipulate, and which rules actually help you get through obeying other rules.

You never know what you're going to learn if you research related topics. Even if you don't use them, they're still useful! Researching peasant fashion in pre-Revolutionary War France might give you an idea of the kinds of skirts women wore back then, but related topics might show you how they lived, how they thought, what they believed, and how it all mixed up with other things to start a revolution.

Maybe this book doesn't have any of that, but who knows? Maybe your next one will. Or maybe it's just one discontented character, and now all that time you thought you wasted reading about some really cool 18th century French dissent helps you write a fabulously detailed antihero with depth you never would've gotten if you'd just pulled him out...

You get the picture.

Research. Do it. You just might learn something.