Monday, September 14, 2009

Doing the Research so the reader Trusts us

I’m strict about some things. I try to get some things Right. I want to convince my audience. Right for me means what it means for me; Right for you is how you interpret it for you.

When writing fiction, I believe there has to be truths to ground the reader—and whatever those truths are is up to the writer to convey them (because I detest most research, I find my own Truths to focus on what does not require hours and hours and hours of research, say, for example, as historical novels would require.

Personally, if I’m writing about a real town, I need to be accurate about that town to honor its people and sense of Place. If I’m writing about a fictional town based on a real town, I have a little more flexibility, but I still need to be careful. If I’m writing about a completely fictionalized place, then I would insert truths to make it grounded in a reality, and in that place I create, I have to be consistent. Consistency—we’ve talked about that.

I use my own instincts, along with some research, to convince my audience I know what I am talking about—you’ve seen me write this before: Convince your audience and you’ve done your job, no matter how, what, where, when, who you write. Throw all the danged ole rules out the window for all I care—just convince me, or you lose me as your reader.

I admit here that I sometimes look up the weather. I think it’s fun. Was there a significant weather event that would change something with my characters or their Place? Or make something interesting? (Like the Hurricane mention in TG when Mee Maw comes to visit—category five grandmother.) Or, if in the holler there was a bad snow storm, Katie Ivene wouldn’t be flying to that West Virginia town in her Rambler with the windows open yelling “wheeee!” But, that’s just me; I like doing those kinds of things and I found sites that show historical weather—the exact weather on any particular day! I love those little details even if only I know that on April 13, 1976, it really was 82 degrees and foggy in a town in South Louisiana (I use weather more as a mood or as Place or whatever, not that I go around quoting weather).

If I mention a movie or a television show or a football game, then I want to make sure I have it Right, and again, sometimes I have fun with it. In TG, VK mentions an episode of Lassie, and there really was an episode of Lassie just as she mentions. I can’t have the movie Rocky coming out in March of 1976, because it didn’t release until December 1976. I can’t have my South Louisiana town’s team playing Old Miss in September when they didn’t play until later in the season, or have them playing in town when it was an out of town game (if I even get that specific, and that’s what you have to decide on—when to be vague and when to have specific details).

Sometimes little details help the reader to “Be There” with the character, to ground them in a place or time or mood, maybe even to have readers say, “I know that place/event/area/whatever!”

In my research, I don’t just check one source; especially when dealing with the internet. I do the best I can to make sure I have everything as accurate as possible—because you are worth my time and care, you being the reader. Will someone find an error if they go through my book(s) with a fine-toothed eye? Maybe, but it won’t be for lack of me working hard and doing my job best I can. I don’t respect lazy writing and I know it when I read it.

By the way, when and how you do your research is up to you. Do what works.

Don’t cheat. Don’t be lazy. It’s worth it to get some things right. You don’t want your reader to stop and say, “Hey, wait a minute! This isn’t right . . .” and bump them from your world, your story, and more important to me: I want my reader to trust me as the writer by forgetting about me and only focusing on the narrator and the story.

Do you make sure you have things Right when speaking in specifics instead of vagaries?


Lazy Writer said...

I did a lot of research about the town my characters live in. I even did the weather thing. I think research is very important in getting your readers to believe you.

T. Anne said...

Research is the primary reason I haven't ventured into historical fiction. I suppose I'm far too lazy ;)

Janna Qualman said...

This is such a smart post! Thanks.

I don't much care for research either, which is why I like to find the truth in emotion first. If I've got that, I can build around it, you know?

Hope you're well. Hugs!

Analisa said...

I love research, but only on things I am really really interested in. I will check the facts if I mention a song. I might not even mention the year in my writing but I have a time frame in my head and so if I write. Brown Sugar by the Rolling Stones was playing for the third time that day on the radio, I trust most readers will know they are back in the early 70's.(I hope) I just checked, it came out in 1971. LOL.

Great post and I can't remember if in TD you mentioned years, but I was right there with VK a kid loving Kool Aid.

Linda Leschak said...

What a great post! And very helpful. Something most of us don't consider to be actually part of fictional writing. However, as a reader of fiction, I've been known to google some fact that doesn't sound right to me. So I know how important it is to get all the facts accurate.

Oh and, since you asked for input... if I say "an historic" I find myself not pronouncing the h. It comes out something like "an istoric." So I guess that puts me on the opposite fence.

Titus said...

My research says this blog is brilliant.
Love the weather tip.
An historical every time, but I think I'm wrong.

Stephen said...

Dear Kathryn, Place, time, tempo, theme, research, and all of the stuff in a writer's toolbox are essential in creating the story and making it strong enough to become a reality of experience for the author as well as the reader. Am chomping at the bit to read TENDER SECRETS. As ever be well,

Strange Fiction said...

I’m a research lover—too much sometimes-I become lost it in. Excellent post and I agree those details are important. You can fool some of the people some of the time..

When I’m speaking I say ‘a historical’, when I’m writing I automatically type ‘an historical’ …

Rick said...

Okay, this is one more of your posts I'm going to print and hang on the wall. Thanks Kathryn for another great posting.

Terri Tiffany said...

Good good post! I usually have relied on my memories but maybe I shouldn't! You gave me some food for thought!

Patience-please said...

I've started Tender Mercies!!!! I have a feeling I won't be doing much else until I've finished.

Jessica said...

I think I actually did research for weather for my historical. I love how you say to get our readers to trust us. Also, lol, hope I don't cheat when I write. I might.... a little.... LOL
But hopefully I'll catch it in edits. Now I've been mostly sticking to contemporaries.

I like 'a' historical. :-)