1. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Write what you know?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by jazzabel, Jan 15, 2012.

    I was wondering, how important is it to get things right in a story?
    For example, you often hear from police officers how annoyed they are at all the cop shows getting things wrong all the time. And yet, millions of people who aren’t working in law enforcement will enjoy and believe that the shows are portraying the issue fairly accurately.
    Same goes for any profession, activity or a location - even if some, or most of your readers, won’t know much about something that you incorporated into the story, how important is it to you to actually get things right, to portray things realistically? Do you think that we as writers have any responsibility towards the reader not to misinform them?

    How far do you go in finding out details about something you want to write but have no first-hand knowledge of? Do you simply imagine it, reference other stories or movies, do you try to find someone who has first hand knowledge or do you try to experience it for yourself?
    Would you even write about something you know very little about?
     
  2. BFGuru
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    BFGuru Active Member

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    Well, my job is essential for getting the story right. I am a stickler for facts because of it.

    When writing for me...I do tend to write what I know, but my first attempt at a novel and I don't know a lot. So I keep researching. Trying to get the historical aspects that I want to involve down. It may be fiction, but they will interact with real people. So... I'm terrified of getting the real aspects wrong. My problem is I don't know when to stop researching and when to start writing.
     
  3. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Haha, if this wasn't written by you, I could swear it was me :D
     
  4. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it's fairly important to get it right. This is in part simply for being accurate, to avoid annoying the people who know the real details.

    But I don't think that that's the only, or perhaps even the main, reason. I think that the more important reason is that the details of human activity are _fascinating_, and usually much, much more interesting than anything that an author is likely to make up without having that background knowledge. Habits, customs, processes, politics, they all produce those moments when we recognize the nature of humanity in a new context, and we delight in it.

    So if an author learns all they can about, say, crime investigation, that's going to give their novel a richness that it wouldn't have had. If, after learning all that, they decide to utterly ignore one fact so that a plot point can go the way they need it to, then that's fine. A few experts will gnash their teeth, and the rest of the readers will have a more satisfying experience. But like so many things, I think that breaking the rules is most acceptable after you've mastered them.

    ChickenFreak
     
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  5. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    I think you are allowed some artistic license when it comes to stuff like policework. But if you get something just completely... not even close to being correct? That's not good because more of your audience might pick up on it. So try to get it as close as you can but it doesn't have to be perfect. If you are set in a specific city like New York, it might be worth looking it up to see how they are organized or what they call different things (ranks, titles, etc).

    I know that serious authors that get things published they have personal experts that they ask (and probably pay) and there are books they read and all that. If you are just getting started writing you might not need to go that far, but then again maybe you might want to.
     
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  6. astroannie
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    astroannie Member

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    Depends on what "it" is.

    I wrote a parody about my favorite baseball player to the tune of "Behind Blue Eyes" that goes, "I pinch-hit in only four games. And I started in only threeee." But the numbers were a little different from that. It was more like 7 and 4-or-5, I forget. But it worked better for the parody to fudge the numbers.

    OTOH, I can't have put him pitching as he's an outfielder and would only pitch in extreme circumstances that would need to be explained.

    As readers, we suspend our disbelief unless you do something that snaps us out of it.

    When I wrote my ballad of Shoeless Joe, I read a biography of him and did other research to get my best understanding of "his side" of the story. You just have to.

    So back to the beginning. It depends on what "it" is, as to how accurate it must be.
     
  7. akexodia
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    akexodia Member

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    My motto: Research, research, research till you do justice to the story you're writing. By doing it, you eliminate any lose ends and the errors that are bound to be pin pointed by the readers (and by your conscience :p ) besides, it gives me great joy while writing. For instance, while working on my previous novel which was based majorly in Florida, Southampton and the Atlantic ocean, i gobbled up almost 1 GB of my internet just to get every bit of description of those places correct by messing around with Google maps!
     
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  8. AmsterdamAssassin
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    AmsterdamAssassin Contributing Member

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    How important is getting the facts right? Well, I read a book where a protagonist beheads an opponent with a throwing star. I laughed, put the book away and will never read anything by this author again. At the end of another good book with interesting information, the protagonist screwed a silencer to the barrel of a revolver, which caused me to doubt the veracity of all the information I had received before. Some writers, like Barry Eisler, publish their mistakes on their websites - these are the kind of authors I like and respect. Anyone can make a mistake, but getting your facts right should be a matter of writing integrity.
     
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  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    very...

    that's no excuse for getting it wrong, imo... i'm not a cop but can still spot most of the unrealistic merde that writers toss willy-nilly into their scripts and directors allow to slip by... same goes for all other settings...

    extremely...

    definitely...

    as far as necessary...

    i might do all of the above except the first, which would make no sense unless i had prior knowledge...

    never!
     
  10. slippingbeauty
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    slippingbeauty Member

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    I see some people find it very important to get your facts straight in a story. I personally think that this such as many things depends on what kind of story you are writing and most importantly where you put the focus of your story. I think you may use "wrong facts" purposedly even, just to prove a point, if there is something else about the story which is your priority and which you want to highlight. I think writing should be done how the author finds it and that authors should not write in order to "respect" the public or the readers. To me writing is art and I find it extremely important that the authors keep true to their art and their idea first.
     
  11. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it probably depends on your audience. And also probably what you mean by "get it right." I do think you should make a reasonable effort to get facts straight but I don't think it really is something that you need to get too bogged down in.
     
  12. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    This topic is interesting. I think it should be 'Write what you can imagine' - as in really imagine. If you can imagine the fear and pain of being seriously hurt, and if you can pull it off, then why not?

    That said, certain activities like playing music with other people (say, in a band) or making love often create unique emotions which should really be at least attempted before really writing about. Because if you don't capture what being in a band is really like then your piece will suffer for it.
     
  13. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks so much everyone for your replies!
    I could not agree more :)

    This makes me feel insecure in my own research, because there are limits to what I can do, on my budget, and it surely falls short of what they are able to come up with.

    That's very true! As far as changing the facts to suit the story, I haven't done that yet, except with things that are still in the sci fi domain, but even with that I find it's important to stay consistent with what we do know.

    Omg 1 gb :faints: But yes, I can see how that can easily happen... With this project I haven't scouted the locations yet, although I have a vague idea, becauseit is set in the future, so I'll probably use the places I know, I'll just pretend they are somewhere else :D For the geography I might use maps though...

    I feel like that when I read some medical plot which so doesn't make any sense, you can see that they might have looked at other movies or at best - a book on pharmacology and toxicology, and devised something that might have seemed clever to them but in reality, it just doesn't work that way at all.
    This is a great idea, authors publishing their mistakes, it's all tongue in cheek and ultimately, everyone learns (plus, the next edition might get corrected).

    @mammamaia: I completely agree :)

    You are right, but I haven't been quite so brave :D I do worry about what will people think...
     
  14. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I tend to write adult fiction, it can be read by teenagers but that is not the target audience. That's why I worry about getting it right because I can imagine the readers to be from all walks of life.

    That's a good point, but like you said, it works with certain things better than others :D
     
  15. yagr
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    yagr Contributing Member

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    Generally speaking I believe it is critical to get things right in a story, but I think it's important to define 'right'. Too, I suppose it is also of value to honestly assess whether you are writing for critical acclaim or for mass consumption. Spinach, blueberries and sprouts receive stellar reviews from nutritionists, but the drive-thru's at McDonalds are always full.

    I think the police shows you brought up are a good example. I think the masses want stories that reinforce their world views and programming or feed their desires and hopes. For instance, most people want to believe the police are stalwarts of moral conduct and are their to protect and serve. They tend to believe that every time they hear a story about a dishonest cop or police brutality, that it is an exception to the rule and that most are out there putting their lives on the line for us every day. If somehow you were able to surrepticiously record the behavior and thoughts of an entire precinct and found that their thoughts and behavior didn't meet peoples ideas or hopes, you'd be better off fudging the facts if you wanted your work to be read or watched...not to mention with such a police force you'd probably become a victim of police brutality yourself. ;) Because there are so few police officers who could see through the ommisions or fabrications, and since public opinion of them is so important, you're unlikely to get anyone to take your facts to task even if their wrong - so I do think that the police shows are an exception. I think there are others as well but they are few and far between and generally, getting it right is very important.
     
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  16. miss sunhine
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    miss sunhine Member

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    I agree and don't agree with this.

    If you're writing something that's common knowledge, like a romance, everyone has fallen in love or at least has a crush so know how it feels. For someone whose never had this it can be hard to get the feelings and the situation right and written realistically.
    But, if you only ever wrote what you knew how can you improve as a writer? Do you think Stephen King knew what it was like to be a 16 year old girl with mental Powers? No he didn't. That's where a writer's experience and insight comes in.
    I think, the more experienced you become the more you can branch out into the 'unknown'.
    I think it's important to get information right as you'll want to be taken seriously. How can i write a book involving the Titanic if i don't know what happened. They'll be people that do
    Good Luck
    ]xxx
     
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  17. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    One doesn't always have to pay to get researchers or experts though. I've had great luck simply emailing people via their websites, or 'expert groups' where they are members, asking if they would be willing to answer a few questions. I've found most are very happy to share their expertise. Of course, one has to be careful not to take advantage of their generosity, but the majority of people I've contacted have told me to feel free to contact them again if I came up with further questions.
     
  18. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's a very good point, and in some ways, I think writing ordinary experiences, if we haven't experienced them ourselves (like love, hate, being fired, being dumped, sex, giving birth etc) is a lot harder than writing about specifics such as certain jobs, places etc. With Stephen King, I'll bet that he had a teenage daughter or a niece that he could ask or observe in order to write that character well. But with the supernatural I think it's different because nobody really has first-hand experience of it, so it's more of a thing that tickles reader's imagination. But if he was writing about a child prodigy, or an abused child, or something else real, it would probably be much harder to "get it right" ie. to get the people who have first hand experience of that situation, to identify with his character.

    For me, somehow, just knowing the facts isn't quite reassuring enough, and the experiences, well we can't experience everything. I suppose, what is confusing to me is that there is an abundance of wrong information and half-arsed research in both books and the media. And yet, lots of people are reading and watching it, happily, being none the wiser. Almost to a point that reality of the situation wouldn't make for a good plot, so it all gets changed to serve the "story".
     
  19. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think you hit the nail on the head :D I often wonder about this, and the truth in, I think, in order to have stellar reviewed sandwich served by the McDonalds as well, that takes a lot of effort.
    I agree also that people look to fiction to realise/vicariously experience their hopes and fears. They don't want to know what really happens when someone gets assaulted, they want to see inspectors Benson and Stabler dropping everything until they capture the assailant and with the speedy trial, put them in jail for life.
     
  20. TheWritingWriter
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    TheWritingWriter Senior Member

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    Keep in mind, in cop shows things are deliberately dramatized in order to keep the viewer interested.

    I've been writing for a long time, so when I was 13 and hadn't been out of state yet, it was hard to write about places I had never been to before. I would research as much as possible, reading, watching videos, movies, doing as much as I could to get as much information I could on a certain location. Eventually, I just got sick of researching all the time, and just started making up towns. I would research the state and general area and climate, but that would be it.

    I spend a lot of time though, despite my efforts to reduce it, researching topics that I apply in my novels. I think it's important to at least put forth an effort. Don't just throw in random ideas around without regard for the facts.
     
  21. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's true, but in a way, this is what worries me. Because a lot of things can be made a lot more interesting then they seem to be in real life, is it then perhaps easier to dramatise experiences we have little emotional investment in? As in, if I try to write a story in which someone has the same job as me, it ends up being a lot more precise but also less exciting than if I'm writing about some other profession which I might know a bit about but don't work in. Same goes for places.

    Making up towns is something I've been considering. Because the novel is set in the future even well-known places will need to be changed somewhat. But I agree, whatever it is, it needs to be researched well because if it isn't, not only do we risk sounding silly, but the more false information that is out there, the more likely people are to make wrong conclusions which are sometimes very hard to break later on, even with authentic information.
     

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