Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Research? For Fiction? -- Writing tip

Question: Someone in my writer's group said I need to do more research. I write fiction and make it all up. How do I research that???

Answer: Well, all fiction is, by definition, a lie -- a made up thing. But it's important, too, to tell a good (or convincing) lie.

It is a fiction writer’s job to create a dream world for the reader to enter. He must make that dream world real and free of anachronisms or other “wake up calls” as possible.

It’s important to make the experience as real for the reader as possible.

I have a friend, Judith French, who writes historical romances (pure escapism), but when her character does something you can bet that Judy has done tried it. She has laid bricks, mixed her own floor wax from turpentine and bee's wax, hand-dipped candles, and regularly rides horses and drives a four horse team and carriage in local parades.

I’ve never caught her in a mistake, unlike some other novelists. Within the past several months, I have read books by best-selling mass-market authors, where the characters went out “fishing for oysters with a net”, bought “petrol” for a Stanley Steamer, and made a “tossed salad” for a Christmas Dinner in 1820.

Oysters grow on the bottom and are harvested with handheld rakes called “tongs”, Stanley Steamers were powered by coal or wood, and needed water in the tank, not “petrol” or gasoline. And in 1820 nobody called it a “tossed” salad. Whoops! A little research would have prevented those stories from being spoiled for me.

Bottom line, don’t put up Christmas trees in July without an explanation.

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