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Writing Tip: Research



Many of you noticed the little faux pas I made in the beginning of yesterday's blog. Oops. Well, I received some interesting feedback over it, including a shoutout to this little gem, so I thought I would share....

Cia on Research...

So, I read an ebook recently. Big surprise there, lol. Several things jumped out at me as I read it that let me know that the writer was definitely NOT a resident of the state they set it in. Not only did they describe the summer weather as humid, which it never is, they mentioned a 6 hour drive between two cities that takes 3, maybe 3 1/2 hours, tops. This leads me to my topic at hand.


Why should you do it? What should you look up? How do you research?

Now, if you're like me, research is fun. Take one of my stories, Two of a Kind. I took two hours to look up the flowers I used to describe the decorations on statues. I had to make sure they were native to the region I was using as the origin, the color variations possible and what they looked like. It may seem excessive for a single descriptive section of just a few paragraphs, but they were a vital part of the plot. Since I wrote specifics, I wanted to have the facts.

I looked up fact pages on Wiki, always a good source, though one I cross check with other sites whenever possible. It is, after all, a site compiled of information by the people and sometimes people don't know their butt from a hole in the ground. Yep, I went there.

I looked up flowers from the region on a wiki page, then looked up a few horticulture sites. Then I googled pictures so I could see the colors myself, which I find is the best way to cement them in my head so I can really describe them. I also found myself researching jungle animals, black jaguar melanin issues, plant poisons and cures, flight time between Brazil and California, weather patterns, driving distance from the airport to a city/mountain range I set the story in, antiserums and how they are created . . . just to name a few things.

You can hit your local library for books on your subject, check online websites, find an expert or researcher in the field/area you are wanting to write about, or just go see for yourself if you plan to use local settings. Ignore the temptation to say,'Only this or that person would know this info is wrong.' Get it right from the start. An author who doesn't even take the time to get to know the region/time/people they are writing about is a pretty sloppy writer in my book.

Make the effort to get to know your subject if you're going to use it. Or, do like I do so often when I can't figure out what I want in a modern story or the facts of the known universe contradict me; make it up! Fantasy stories are prime for making up your own rules and facts, like the alternate history of the Carthera people. Mixing the two takes work; you have to make sure you stick to the rules of the world you create when you write, but it can help you out of those sticky situations sometimes.

Besides, learning something new every day is a GOOD thing!


Happy Reading! Writing! and Reviewing!

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I like Wiki too, and they've made their editing rules more stringent so that helps make the info more credible. A Google search is always a good bet. But for me, the best sources of information haven't come from those sources, they've come from readers who have helped me out.

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Yes, search engines are handy though I often use Bing. They have pretty pictures, lol. Readers can be experts too, lol. I had our resident Daddy Q ding me on the speed of my court procedures during Escaping the Pain. I knew I was bending those, but it was still really cool that he'd take the time to point out the flaw so I could fix it if I didn't know better.


Sometimes details you don't even think about can trip you up. I once read a story set at the coast in 'Newport, Washington'. The thing is? The author meant Newport, OR. Newport WA is in the desert, not the coast! I was actually so bothered by that I couldn't even finish the story.


I've seen readers get irate over their hometowns, it happened just last week in a comment of a story I read. Writing what you know is the easiest way to prevent that, but where is the fun in going the safe route all the time?


The editing/beta reader program on GA can actually help authors with that. I know that sat8997 has a list of helpers that detail what they 'know' so to speak, and that helps in pairing up stories/authors with a team to smooth their stories.

Posting a topic in the Writer's Corner asking for advice is often helpful too. Mark has fans who offered help, if I recall his blog post correctly ;) and I've often done the same thing here and there when the writers needed information with things like firearms or medical knowledge.


I like to learn though; so my advice will always be 3 simple words when someone asks me a question I don't know: Look it up! Often I'm searching along with them, with my insatiable curiosity piqued. LOL

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As a generalisation;

If you dont know it, dont write it



There are a few stories on GA where the authors have set them in the UK, when its obvious that they know nothing about the UK, or where they attempt to use British characters, without knowing any brits.

This isnt fixable by research, as a lot of its stuff that has to be 'known'.


We dont play soccer, its football. School sports isnt done to anywhere near the levels it is in the US, & its just as likely that a school would have a rugby team as a football team.

Generally, schools dont have lockers.

Teenagers dont have cars (its extremely rare for anyone under 18 to have one)

Prom does now happen at some schools, but its not the big deal it is in the US.



Now imagine having a story where all the above are wrong, the story falls apart.

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I agree with you Option.


Even within the US that comes into play, honestly. Schools in the south and very different from schools in the Pac NW. Small town Kansas versus New York inner city. Metal detectors, public transport versus school buses, football versus baseball (not every state is like Texas where football tends to be KING).


I almost never set my stories in a place I don't know. That sort of thing is VERY important to get right.

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Which is why I very rarely tell you where my stories are set :) Presumably, it's obvious from the writing they're set in the uk... or somewhere entirely alternate to it... Hostage, Fallen etc, but I very rarely give anything away as to precisely where it is. In that way no one can tell me I'm wrong because, in my world I'm alwyas right :)

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So, what do you do when you want to write characters with daily lives, jobs and such? How would you go about doing research for the day to day life of a medical student, medical laboratory worker, or director of the CDC? I completely agree with geographic considerations, local flavor, and even cultural idiosyncrasies but, as a programmer, it is hard for me to envision the life of a saw mill worker...even though I might be tempted to cast one into my work - We can't all be programmers! :) 

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