We are human, which enables us to inherently perceive bullshit. Hemingway once said that a writer must develop an internal bullshit detector. In other words, a writer must be able to look at their work and distinguish that it is not flat out full of mumbo-jumbo. One small piece of BS could figuratively force a reader to throw out a book. A reader must feel like they can attribute factual merit to a writer’s work.
A sure fire solution to prevent a piece of writing from being, well, a load of crap is research.
Ah, I see I now have the attention of the fact checkers!
Yes, research. It is quintessential that any piece of writing has a hearty amount of research to back a story, a plot, a character, a scene, etc. The best part is that there is no such thing as too much research. The more research, the stronger you can make a story.
Take for instance a writer in the Fantasy genre. Say this person is creating a world on a far off planet with races, cultures, religions, wars, climates, and architecture completely unlike our own here on Earth. That author is quite extensively creating a whole new world from within their mind. If this writer were to just take pen to paper, scripting out their story without one ounce of research, there is a very high chance that the story could come off as highly unreliable.
Because of all the different little slices that have to go into creating a new realm on a distant planet (think: languages, fashion, weapons, technology), no one can possibly have extensive knowledge in all of those areas. Someone who may be well versed on the art of war may have little to no knowledge on how to build languages. That is where the research comes in. In order to create a world, you need to learn all you can about what makes up civilizations.
Do you think Tolkien could have created all of those languages, races, and cultures within his works without a substantial amount of research?
I apologize if I sound like I am standing on a soapbox, screaming out to the world, but I am a fact checker. A rather hardcore fact checker, much to the annoyance of my author friends who ask me to beta-read their works.
I am getting tired of the new literature out there that is full of inaccuracies. I have not ounce of remorse for putting a book down and walking away if the text is so unreliable and completely full of BS with un-researched material.
So, as I want every writer to succeed, I would like to offer a few things to keep in mind as you prepare for your next piece work and some tips on how to conduct research:
- There is never “too much” research. Go overboard. Whatever you do not use, file away for your next masterpiece. There is no such thing as too much information being held in a stockpile.
- Information is everywhere! Quite literally, information seeps into each fiber of our everyday life: TV, radio, Internet, newspapers, magazines, books, the list can go on and on. Garner all the information that you can from these sources.
- Research is (in essence) FREE! With the Internet, it is impossible to make up an excuse that you cannot find information. The Internet is a plethora of free information ripe for the picking. Just be mindful of unreliable sources. Also, do not discount your local, public library.
- Triple check your source. Since the Internet is a conglomeration of people’s ideas, there is a lot of unreliable information out there. Make sure that the bit of information that you are looking at is truly factual.
- Use creative license, but keep it real. Fiction is fiction. It is for the most part made up. But do not go overboard on making things up or trying to be too creative, especially when it defies Earth-bound nature and physics. If someone is being shot at with a 9mm from a few feet away and the victim holds up a leather briefcase as a shield, if that bullet is a direct hit on the briefcase, it is going through it and most likely the victim too. Don’t say that the briefcase was hit squarely and shielded the victim from the bullet. It is completely impossible unless the briefcase was lined with some kind of metal.
Now that I have gone overboard on the research aspect, keep in mind that once you have collected your information and started writing, do not ‘data dump’ on your readers. Just give enough information to keep your readers attention and to keep the text reliable. Do not inundate or bombard readers with every bit of information on a subject. Even though Call of Cthulhu is one of my favorite stories, Lovecraft had a tendency to sometimes data dump on the readers and it becomes overwhelming. (Sorry, H.P., but it’s true…)
So, fellow writers, always keep your facts in check and make sure you have conducted enough research on a topic to make you the most reliable author out there. Remember, the fact checkers are watching.