Monday, February 21, 2011

Do your Damn Research

People say to write what you and it’s never more apt than in Genre Fiction, I think. Because genre fiction is so widely read, you can never know what expertise your readers have. A physicist may pick up your book and see that your science is so completely wrong that he will never pick up another thing you write, or never even finish that one. Your readers may be specialists in anything from yeast to sound barriers or from child psychology to every possible genus of fir trees.
So if your research is wrong, your readers are going to let you know it. It’s not easy for many of us writers to do research. It’s time-consuming and sometimes arduous. It takes time away from writing. You have to find the right sources, talk to the right experts, ask the right questions. But the details lend themselves nicely to authenticity in a piece. It’s the miniscule details that pull a reader in.
I was doing a narrated driving lesson to a friend at Residency in the midst of the slushy snow “storm”-like thing *that was about two inches of snow on the ground and slowly kind of sprinkling snow upon us) Mostly I was bitching at people who don’t know how to drive in the snow. There was a pick-up truck coming out of a parking lot on the left. His tires began to spin as they tried to get traction and the bed of the truck began pulling off to the right. I turned to Sami and said,
“He doesn’t have enough weight in the bed of his truck. He needs sand bags.”
And then Sami said, “ See, and that’s why we do research. Who the hell would know that if they didn’t grow up with the snow. I would never have thought of that.”
To someone who lives in the snake effect snow belt capital of the US, this is common knowledge. So if you’ve never spun out or driven on two inches of slush, or been through a hurricane, earthquake or tornado, and you’re not willing to risk life and limb for your craft, you have to find someone who has, perhaps several someones, so that you have enough input to make your characters’ experiences believable. Your readers want to live vicariously through your characters, and many of your readers will have experienced it themselves so you better as hell have done your research and gotten it right.
We talked a lot at residency about going to experience things first-hand, or talking to experts. Another good piece of advice that Maberry gave us was at the end of any interview with an expert, you should ask “what question did I not know enough to ask & can you answer it” and “what is the coolest thing in your profession?” We talked about using CDs of sounds, websites, scents, and actually acting out scenes with friends or family members and talking to as many people about things we didn’t know about.
So I guess I better get out there and do my research. Who wants to join me???