Why Mix-Ups Matter - Research Your Writing!
I remember when I wrote my first romance novel, The Pinecone Legend.
I call it a first romance, not because I’ve written others (as it’s definitely not my favorite genre to work in), but because--who knows?--I may write another . . . someday. (Don’t hold your breath, though.) Anyway, it was cheesy and predictable and all sorts of tropes wrapped up in Christmas and warm fuzzies. But that’s all beside my point.
There was a scene with the male lead on a horse farm. He brought his curly haired adorable niece along to ride. (I KNOW! Such stereotypes . . . don’t judge me!)To be honest, I didn’t really know a whole lot about horses. I had a friend with a horse farm I’d visited once or twice. Also, my husband and I rode once on a trail where the horses were so trained, you may as well have been in a car on a kiddie-coaster. That was about it. Everything else I needed to know, I looked up online. (Let’s just say my research has improved since then, too!)
Well, there was this one moment when I wanted the young rider to express her excitement at the first time she got to pick up the pace. I looked up my terms and learned that “canter” was faster than “trot.” Okay. I was good to go. In my final edit, I decided I should check that again and ended up finding (ugh, okay, you can judge me this time) a WIKI article that had those two terms reversed. So, I switched them in my manuscript such that, initially, the little girl cantered, but she was really excited when she got to “pick up the pace to a trot!” That may not have been the exact words, but I think it would hurt too much to actually read this thing, again. You get the idea. I got it wrong. Really wrong.
Now, I am a big believer in the fact that perfect is unachievable. We must do our best, compromise, work with others, learn more about and practice daily in our art, and constantly improve. Along the way, “done” is better than “perfect.”
Those of you reading this blog on my website may notice that I have my PAID FOR domain (www.bucketlisttobookshelf.com) pointing to a FREE website (wix), which is a perfect demonstration of my belief!
Nonetheless, when my friend with the horse farm read the book, that was the biggest eyesore/turnoff to her: the fact that I’d swapped the meanings of “canter” and “trot.” You all have heard how I describe this book and yet THAT is what was the worst part to her? Wow!
Truth is like that to to those in the know, though. I felt the same way when I saw one of my daughter’s early shows about a community surrounding people in the Air Force. Problem was that the show was written to take place in a time BEFORE the Air Force existed. It was written in the era of the Army Air Corps.
It was a middle school production, not a professional one, so I’m sure I could pick on some other issues. But, as an Air Force veteran who knew her military history, this little piece of misinformation bugged the heck out of me!Today, when getting sucked into one of those click-bait listicles (it happens to the best of us), I was reminded of this little “get it right” anecdote and I thought I’d share the article.
Look, you’re not going to get it right every time. You’re not going to get it perfect ever. But, do your due diligence on research before you send your audience running away from a good piece of work (or a bad one, for that matter) for the wrong reasons.
Top 10 RESEARCH APPROACHES:
Credible Online Sources from the Internet - it’s okay to start at wikipedia, but follow the links to where their information is initiating from to ensure it comes from a genuine source and does not circulate back to itself; newspapers, college sites, and human interest stories are ideal
Library - I know it’s old-fashioned, but good old books have a wealth of information and, if you find one that you’ll need to refer back to numerous times, then purchase, in print or digital format at:
Bookstores - I usually only add the print or electronic title if I will need to use it for more than a single tidbit of information or if I’ll need to take notes in, tab, or highlight the material. Audiobooks may be your favorite method of “reading,” but they don’t make the best tools for research
TED Talks - So many of these can be found online. If I were wanting to address vulnerability, why would I not want to hear from Brene Brown, and all of the people that she would lead me to? If I want to learn about tribes and communities, Seth Godin would be my guy. Simon Sinek is a great place to start for intergenerational communication.
Interviews - Find an expert on your subject and talk to him or her . . . as in, an actual conversation, preferably (and if possible) in person. Most people would be honored to share their information with you for nothing at all. A cup of coffee, an acknowledgment at the back of your book, and a free copy of it would put them over the moon!
Subject-Specific Organizations - Does your character have cancer? Talk to hospitals, foundations, and organizations specializing in the care and treatment of patients with the same type of cancer as your character. Conduct conversations by phone, in-person, and add to your research through their materials available in print and online.
The Watchful Experience - I break up experience into two categories: watching and doing (participating). Each will bring something different to your writing. If you are writing about a hockey player and figure skater (if you’re, say, sticking to romance cliches), then go watch a game! Attend a performance! Take notes. You may need to go to several games to really get the rules and you may need to watch several performances to understand the way the skaters move. You get the idea.
The Participation Experience - You can’t do this for every experience you write about, but--if at all possible--try to actually DO the things your character does. If she is a pastry chef, please your loved ones by practicing the same in your own kitchen. If your character climbs mountains, you may not have the chance to participate in the exact same thing, but maybe you can go to a local indoor rock-climbing facility to at least get an idea of what your character is undergoing. Get creative with participation and how you might be able to emulate the experiences of your characters or story.
Events - I once heard Jodi Picoult give a lecture on research in which she described being able to travel the world, live with, and get to know the people, community, and culture of the characters about whom she was writing in one of her books. Wow! Amazing. If you have the opportunity to do such things, good on you! I don’t have those kind of resources, though I dream I one day may. I do, however, have a pretty active arts and business community. There are chamber organizations, churches, theaters, lecture halls, coaching groups, toastmasters, sports organizations, cultural centers, and more that have in them the people who have been able to dedicate their resources to topics that I am or may one day be writing about. Keep an eye 0n your community, its surrounding areas, and the nearest cities. You never know when there might be an affordable and worthwhile event of some kind that you could attend and from which you could garner great research for your writing. What those events are will vary as greatly as the topics about which a person could write. Only you will know what you’re looking for.
Other Writers - Don’t look at those working in your same field as competitors; look at them as teachers. How do they approach the same subjects you’ll be covering? What is standard practice for your genre? For your target audience? Check out the top performing books and authors in your field and learn from them!
In addition to some tips on research, I hope this little share will help you to be encouraged. It was after my awful foray into romance that I had the opportunity to work with three different traditional publishers, open, run, and eventually sell my own publishing company, put out another 40 books (so far), and hit #1 on Amazon 8 times (also so far). One bad work (or badly researched work) doesn’t have to be the end of your writer’s journey.
Look forward and plan . . . look back and laugh!
Yours in writing,