Research for Fiction Writers, and the Novel Wrapped

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* Research for Fiction Writers
* The Novel Wrapped
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quotes of the Day

“With the old economics destroyed, organizational forms perfected for industrial production have to be replaced with structures optimized for digital data. It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves — the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public — has stopped being a problem.” Clay Shirky

“A revolution is brewing in the music business as a new generation of female acts, following the example of Taylor Swift, are seizing ownership of their music rights and refusing to sign deals that cede complete control to music companies.” Eamonn Forde (see Of Interest)

Of course this is something indy publishers already have. 🙂

Research for Fiction Writers

I constantly hear writers talk about research. (I always assume they mean “necessary” research.)

Some love to do research. Some would rather do research than write. Others (I) would rather have teeth jerked out with pliers and a screwdriver.

Stephen King actually employs a person who likes to do research. S/he researches whatever King needs and provides the details so he doesn’t have to bother with it.”

Apparently, he’s like me:

  1. we write FICTION.
  2. for us, spending time doing In-depth research does not pass Scott Carpenter’s WIBBOW test: Would I Be Better Off Writing?

If you love doing in-depth research and/or you would rather do that than write, please, continue as you normally do. I’m not trying to change your mind or who you are.

If you’re more like me (and apparently Stephen King), read on.

The first thing to remember about writing fiction is, as I wrote above, It Is Fiction. It’s a few minutes’ or hours or entertainment. Nothing more important than that.

In his Jack Reacher books, Lee Child never did in-depth research about the military, and he’d never been in the military. He picked a rank for Reacher at random and just wrote the story.

Still, you need to include enough true facts to lend your stories a feeling of autheticity. Believeability.

But you don’t have to read a 1,000 page treatise on firearms to understand that most revolvers hold six cartridges (or “rounds”) and some hold only five. In every case, with a revolver, cartridges are kept in and dispensed from that little spinny thingy in front of the trigger: the cylinder.

The term “pistol” most often means a handheld semiautomatic firearm that’s fed ammuntion from a “magazine” (not a “clip”) which is usually inserted in the “grip” (not the butt). A long gun (rifle) has a butt. It’s at the end of the stock. It’s the sometimes curved part that fits against the shooter’s shoulder.

And shooters almost never smell “cordite” or see white smoke issue from the barrel of their weapon. The former hasn’t been used as a propellant since around the 1940s or ’50s, and the latter hasn’t happened (except in the fake gunfights in Tombstone) since the late 1800s or early 1900s.

(If you’re writing a gunfight scene in a western set in that time period, a little white smoke stretching away from the barrel is a good thing.)

Of course, there’s a lot more to research than firearms, throwing stars, knives, garrotes, Bic pens, scissors, hot coffee, cast-iron skillets, rolling pins, hair pins and other weapons. Some of my operatives are adept at Krav Maga.

For example, is your story set in another country? Might be worthwhile to see whether the stop signs and other traffic signs are shaped the same as ours.

It’s a good idea to check out the lingo too. You’ll seldom find a Brit in London getting on a “elevator.” Chances are he’ll take a “lift” up to his “flat” (not “apartment”) after he enjoys a “fag” or “ciggy” (not “cigarette”) outside. Of course, you probably are familiar with those.

The point is, none of this essential (to lend authenticity to your story) research is time consuming or difficult to do.

I do what I (and others) call “spot” research. If my guy or gal is going to a place I’ve never been, I hop online on my business computer and look at photos of the place. What sorts of trees and other vegetation are there? Is the region flat or hilly or mountainous? Sand or dirt or red-or-yellow clay? Rocky or rock free?

Rivers? Lakes? What grows along the banks or shores of those? If you write much about rivers in some (maybe all) parts of Texas, the predominant species will be salt cedar, probably with mesquite and maybe acacia. And just so you know, despite the John Wayne (and other) westerns, there are no naturally occurring saguaro cacti in Texas.

If there are cliffs or large rock outcroppings in your novel, what sort of stone is it? What color is it at different times of day? I know of one cliff in southwest New Mexico along the Gila River that looks like it’s faced with gold in the late afternoon. In the morning it’s a drab blue, and in the middle of the day it’s a mostly drab white. It’s made (again, predominantly) of a kind of limestone.

Where your story takes place, are the streets and roads dirt? Gravel? Mud? If they’re paved, are they paved with asphalt? Concrete? (Not “cement.” Cement is the wet form.) Is the asphalt blue or grey or black? Or are they paved with cobblestones or bricks? Are the bricks laid flat (in what pattern?) or on their sides (stronger) or on their ends (strongest)?

Of course you won’t belabor these details in your story. Your character will focus-down, observe or mention them in passing, and move on. The details will lend an air of authenticity to your writing, and the focus on a detail will pull the reader deeper into the story. It will help you ground the reader in the setting and in the scene.

If you do this, if you go to this level of detail in describing the settings in which the scenes (sometimes even transitory scenes) take place, you’ll begin to hear readers say they feel as if they are in the story with the characters. That is very nice to hear.

If you don’t — and if readers comment at all — they’ll say the story seemed “thin.” They won’t know why, only that it didn’t interest them.

Mercifully, though, most readers won’t do that. They’ll just put the book or story down and go find something else to do. And all you’ll hear are crickets.

Anyway, you only need a few details to lend an air of authenticity to your story. Then you need to know how to layer them in skillfully. And of course, that can be achieved only through Practice. So keep writing.

One caution: Be sure to wear your rabbit-hole-resistant underwear when doing spot research.

The Novel Wrapped, and Yesterday

You can see the cover and read the description at StoneThreadPublishing. It’s already available for pre-order. It will be released on Monday, January 22.

The novel actually woke me up late on Monday night. Around 11:30 p.m.

The POV character was standing next to the bed, hissing at me, her arms crossed over her chest. “Come on, man! You have to write this now! Then since you are already awake, you can move on to the next one.”

Of course, she was right. So I got up, got dressed, made a couple mugs of coffee, and padded out to the Hovel.

I posted the Journal for yesterday first, then turned to the writing ‘puter and started typing. The end of the story flowed out in a little over an hour. Cycling over the final 6000 words or so took a little longer.

I found the cover picture fairly quickly (it looks like a younger version of the POV character in her other novels), created the cover and a promo doc, then spell checked the story and sent it off to my first reader.

It was a very long but really good day.

I’ll talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

You Are Not What You Used To Be

Taylor-made deals: how artists are following Swift’s rights example

7 Captivating Typography Trends for Book Design in 2023

The Numbers

The Journal……………………………… 1380

Writing of Blackwell Ops 17: Soleada Garcia: Origin Story

Day 1…… 4204 words. To date…… 4204
Day 2…… 4284 words. To date…… 8488
Day 3…… 3355 words. To date…… 11843
Day 4…… 1623 words. To date…… 13466
Day 5…… 1284 words. To date…… 14750
Day 6…… 4065 words. To date…… 18815
Day 7…… 4083 words. To date…… 22898
Day 8…… 3903 words. To date…… 26801
Day 9…… 5226 words. To date…… 32027
Day 10…. 3304 words. To date…… 35331
Day 11…. 4022 words. To date…… 39353
Day 12…. 1796 words. To date…… 41149 (done)

Fiction for January……………………. 29306
Fiction for 2024…………………………. 29306
Fiction since October 1…………… 332351
Nonfiction for January……………… 10750
Nonfiction for 2024…………………… 10750
2024 consumable words…………… 40056

2024 Novels to Date……………………… 1
2024 Novellas to Date…………………… 0
2024 Short Stories to Date……………… 0
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………… 83
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)…………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)…… 238
Short story collections…………………… 31

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Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. On this blog I teach Writing Into the Dark and adherence to Heinlein’s Rules. Unreasoning fear and the myths of writing will slow your progress as a writer or stop you cold. I will never teach the myths on this blog.

2 thoughts on “Research for Fiction Writers, and the Novel Wrapped”

  1. Going down rabbit holes has been an issue for me haha. I love research for it’s own sake so sometimes I go “ohhhhhh interesting!” and then keep learning about the thing(s).
    I’ve gotten better at this over the years but I still have my moments where I’ll start researching at nine AM and then next time I look at the clock it is twelve or one in the afternoon or even later.

    • Been there, done that (grin), albeit to a lesser degree. For me, when I’m in the middle of an exciting scene, very little else can compete with rushing forward to see what happens next.

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