Fact, Fiction, or Both?

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“There’s an awful temptation to just keep on researching. There comes a point where you just have to stop, and start writing.”  –  David McCullough

I’ve ventured down that black hole we call research.  Although I’m not much of a betting man, I would bet that both new and established writers find themselves making the same journey.  Who can blame us? Many of us are perfectionists, many of us have set the bar too high based on our own perceived view of good writing, and many of us simply enjoy research.  Yes, yes, and yes. Regardless of the reason, and there are many, research can be just as much of a time suck as social media can be. But it’s so much fun.

So why am I lost in research? Maybe it’s because I work in a world of technical exacts. Deviations from those exacts can mean the difference between failure and success.  Design changes to current products or the introduction of new products go through rigorous evaluations and testing to ensure they meet the designed intent.  I could write with a level of authority when it comes to engineering or manufacturing and comfortably blend fact and fiction. Maybe I will at some point.

Maybe it’s because I am so impressed with authors I read, and the level of factual detail they present in their writing. More importantly, the level of factual detail they include that I know was researched.  The works of James Rollins might be a good example to use here with his Sigma Force series. Rollins was a veterinarian yet writes adventure/thriller novels blending historical mysteries and cutting edge science into fictional works. He writes with such authority. Maybe it’s his fault.

Maybe it’s simply because I’m writing a mystery/thriller and I want the law enforcement procedural parts of it to be accurate. I’ve had family members, now both deceased, who were in law enforcement. I could use their help now but all I have are personal memories involving stories they would tell and our family feelings about those stories. I can still use that but it doesn’t help with the procedural aspects. For that, I’ve enlisted the help of a friend of mine who is a detective with the State Police and another friend who is a local cop. I’ve also bought a few books on homicide investigation and have explored a number of websites that offer an overwhelming amount of information. All helpful and now I’ve become too detail oriented.  Maybe it is my fault.

The reality of it all is the procedural part of what I’m writing will probably amount to a small percentage of the whole. At some point, my research needs to be enough. I think I’ve done enough research and reached the point where I can now blend both fact and fiction harmoniously, and where there is doubt, I have enough resources available that I can improvise.  Just write…

For now, that’ll do.

 

20 Comments

  1. I loved this. Of course I did, it’s about research. I think a line that stuck in my brain from one of my favorite sci-fi novels validates our penchant for research.

    The characters are at a cocktail party in the 1970s, and one of them is complaining about the fact that NASA spent millions of dollars on a shuttle launch only to leave the landing pod in the water after picking up the astronauts.

    Another character counters with the observation that NASA didn’t pay that money for the hardware, but for the technology, which can’t be lost.

    I see research in a similar light. The understanding and information you “buy” with your time can’t be lost. It may only form a small part of this book, but it’s always there. It may come in handy for one or more future projects, and ultimately will shape everything you write–subtly or overtly.

    Happy Monday, and thanks for posting!

    • W.C. Cunningham

      September 10, 2015 at 7:31 pm

      I love research. I have a bad habit of research detours that take on an entire life of their own at times.

  2. I had to reach a place where that was it. I started writing and realized I hadn’t even scratched the surface for what I needed and panicked. So, like I learned from friends who run sled dogs — panic forward. I kept writing and marked my gaps. And you know what? I’m glad I wrote and didn’t stop to get into more research. The story took on its life and those gaps gave me specifics to research instead of broad topics. We all find our own way through it. You’ll find yours!

    • W.C. Cunningham

      September 10, 2015 at 7:33 pm

      That’s a wonderful idea Charli. I had completely stopped at one point when I could have continued and addressed the gap details at another time.

  3. I think this is all true, and that honestly more research (if you’re doing something that needs research) is going to make you a better writer. The fact that you realized you needed to come to a stop means to me that you aren’t actually doing too much!

  4. It is easy to get caught up in all the things that go into writing a novel, yes, at some point you just have to say enough is enough.

    • W.C. Cunningham

      September 10, 2015 at 7:36 pm

      Way too easy but I enjoy learning. I think I have enough now I can mark areas I might need to come back to for accuracy and will proceed in that way. The cool thing is I was able to get a lot of resources I can fall back on at any time.

  5. Hi Bill, I was recently nominated to participate in the 7.7.7. Challenge. While I tend to look at these things a bit like chain letters, this one is relatively painless. It allows you to share your work on a platform of your choice and maybe touch base with new readers and writers. If you’re at all interested, take a look at my blog post on the subject. I think I’d like to read seven lines of your thoughts on canned soup, personally, so I hope you do.

  6. It is amazing that I came across this post. A few days ago a friend advised me a book, a real page turner, and I am loving it, but… I happened to be an expert on something this book is about, and the author has no clue! A fifteen minute Google search would do, but he never bothered. I am in the middle of the book, and I am very annoyed. I would definitely buy all his books, but this lack of research speaks volumes…

    • W.C. Cunningham

      September 12, 2015 at 7:49 pm

      I’ve come across that a few times and it always annoys me. It could be something as simple as incorrect information about a subject or incorrect details about a place. With the tools we have at our disposal there is no excuse for that. Thank you for reading! By the way, I really enjoyed your post that Jean shared. Amazing pictures and a part of the world I would love to see. I’ve only been as close as England. My son visited Ireland, Wales, and England this summer before he entered college. He loved Ireland the most but the northern most place he spent time in was Dublin.

      • Thank you for your comment! Glad your son got a glimpse of Ireland.

        A few incorrect details could be annoying, but in the book I am reading now every second page screams ignorance. Only a splendid intrigue holds me to the book. I cannot figure out – is it an overconfidence or disrespect towards readers.
        Another annoyance I came across recently is a “your and you’re” howler. Never expected this one in a novel.

        • W.C. Cunningham

          September 13, 2015 at 7:27 am

          I would not expect to see the “your and you’re” mistake in a novel either. Maybe in a blog post or informal essay but not a novel (as I recover nicely from finding my own error in this post – an “our” instead of “are”). 🙂

          • Yes, it was throughout the whole Kindle version of the book. Native English speaker. I was deeply surprised. Otherwise, a book worth reading.

          • A good quality of the novel made me think that it was dictated to a teenager and wasn’t proof read afterwards 🙂 It was a Kindle version. Still, I didn’t buy the second book. I am not a native English speaker, may be it is why I notice these things and don’t like them so much 🙂

  7. Sounds like time to start writing, Bill, although I’m glad you researched the law enforcement stuff. As one who once included a poorly researched law enforcement scene in a book–and I mean poorly–I always regret not doing a bit more research. Best of luck with your story–can’t wait to read it!

  8. I like Charlie’s idea of marking the gaps and researching the specifics later.

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