Thursday, May 9, 2013

Research--Fun and Boring All At the Same Time

I've started Bart's story, which means I've been researching and organizing said research for a couple of weeks now.  I know a whole lot about hostage negotiation teams, drug busts, what happens to cops who are disgraced, and well, I better not say more so I don't give away the story.  Research can be fun to do (and you have to know when to stop or you'll never write the story) and sort of boring to organize and make it useful.

I organize my research in two ways.  I have a notebook where I take notes (leftover habits from my days as a journalist) and I have research files on my computer that I tab and organize for reference.  Tons of bookmarks on the computer, of course,  The internet is a wonderful research tool and I could research forever, I think.  (Or at least research long enough to procrastinate the actual writing a little longer.  *sigh*  I probably shouldn't admit that I do that, but it's true.  I need to break that habit someday.)

It's always funny to me when people think that because I write fiction I don't have to research because I can just make it up, right?  Wrong.  People will call you out if you don't know your stuff or if it doesn't ring true.  I think I told you all the story about when I was reading a book that told about someone standing on a corner and hailing a cab in Provo, Utah.  Since I lived in Provo, I know that wouldn't happen because there aren't many taxis and you'd be standing on a corner forever to hail one.  Sort of ruined the story for me a bit because I knew the author hadn't done her research on the setting for her book.

How do you organize your research?  Does it bother you when it's obvious an author doesn't know what they're talking about in a book?

11 comments:

Rebecca H. Jamison said...

Right now, I have a dilemma like the cab thing. My characters go skiing in the East. Out there, skiers take off their boots to go in the lodge. Here, in the west, skiers leave their boots on to go in the lodge. So, if I leave the boots on, the Easterners will think I'm wrong. If I take them off, the Westerners will think I'm wrong. It's a conundrum.

Heather said...

Hi I'm Heather! Please email me when you get a chance, I have a question about your blog! LifesABanquet1(at)gmail.com

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Heather, my email is juliecoulterbellon@gmail.com if you'd like to ask me your question.

Rebecca, that is a dilemma, but I would go for what's real for the people who live there. Do you have a west coaster that could comment on it to your character and you could explain it in dialogue? That might help.

Jon Spell said...

You know, I once had someone critique me for putting the pilot's seat on the right. My own dip into research had shown it on the left.

I'm tolerant of a little glossed over research bits, like when they use impossible IP addresses on TV. I think it's best if you can be as authentic as possible.

Rebecca, maybe you could point it out and have a character wear his ski boots into the lodge and have everyone stare until he realizes it's not the etiquette there.

Rebecca H. Jamison said...

Thanks for the ideas, Jon and Julie.

Debra Erfert said...

Jon, pilots do occupy the left seat as the captain, that's why it such an honor when a pilot asks someone if they'd like to sit in the left seat. That's code for sitting in the captain's chair. Yeah, man! I did intense research on that--interviewed several pilots, private and commercial. I figure by this time I'm qualified to land anything with two or more engines. Yep!

I love doing research on something new, whether it's flying, or where it might be best to dump a dead body--from an airplane.

I bought a new computer program called Scrivener. I'm hoping it will make me more productive when I start a new book. It's supposed to have "notes" and cool stuff to keep me organized. We'll see.

Mary Walker said...

I read a book once that was set in my hometown, with the characters attending the HS I attended. It is a very small town and a lot of the minor details, were just wrong. Like where the students went to lunch everyday, the campus was closed (it still is even now), nobody is allowed to leave. Another detail that I noticed was that she had the kids catch a bus to Boston to work in a hotel, there is no bus through town and most kids worked at a local hotel. I love the author, I've loved her other books, I even liked this book, but the incorrect details were a distraction.
In my opinion, when an author writes about a specific place and uses a real place name, like Prove, UT or Northborough, MA they need to make sure to get the details right, if you don't want to do the research leave the place unnamed, then small details won't matter.

Jon Spell said...

Debra - I got the trial version of Scrivener as part of the NaNo deal. Haven't tried it yet. Do let me know how it works out. I just don't want to try to move all of my stuff into a new product at this stage. Maybe when starting a new book...

Debra Erfert said...

Jon -- Don't move anything over into your Scrivener program, but start something new in it, just to get a feel for it. I'm not exactly wild about it yet, but then I just tried doing a synopsis in it so far. And you can't access the file from your regular Word Documents' file. It's separate. It will take some getting used to, that's for sure.

Robert M Starr said...

To Jon and Debra,

As I recall, airplane pilots sit in the left seat and helicopter pilots sit in the right seat. Debra's comments are exactly right for airline pilots (and military pilots for side-by-side cockpits). But, if my fading memory hasn't failed completely, the aircrew commander/ helicopter pilot sits on the right.

Robert M Starr said...

It does bother me when a writer doesn't know what he or she is talking about. Good fiction actually has to be more believable than non-fiction (assuming the non-fiction is actually true - the facts frequently seem unbelievable when someone does something insane). I don't mind a writer taking a little license with the truth, but even science fiction needs to have an element of 'this could really happen' in order to hold my interest.

I researched the material for Until Shiloh Comes, then I had to do some fairly extensive rewrites when I learned from another writer (and history professor) that my 'facts' were actually commonly taught 'myths' printed in history texts from my early education.

I also took a bit of license in creating a fictional version of an actual town, compressing time or adding buildings or businesses that did not exist. Someone from the town might criticize these 'errors,' but I needed to make the changes for the purposes of my story.

Still, a little license goes a long way. Alastair MacLean was one of my favorite writers, but his mistake in having a character 'click off the safety' on a revolver which had no safety was particularly obvious to me, and it has encouraged me to become diligent in researching as an aspiring writer.