Researching Fiction

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* Once Upon a Time There Was a Typo
* The Fun Continues
* Researching Fiction
* Reminder
* You Can Subscribe on the Website Now
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quotes of the Day

“When PG goes into a physical bookstore, the last thing he wants to be confronted with is politics. If a bookstore couldn’t avoid politics, PG would head out the door and order a book from Amazon.” The Passive Guy (see “Of Interest”) I feel exactly the same way about blogs on writing. If the blogger can’t avoid ambushing me with her/his politics, I go elsewhere.

“democratic republic, n. That form of government in which, every four years, the citizens are kept busy canceling each other’s votes while the electoral college selects a president.” from my wrong-headed dictionary (similar to Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary) which I have been compiling for years (see the first post in “Of Interest”).

Once Upon a Time There Was a Typo

The day before yesterday, I had a ton of fun, first on the podcast with Vin Zandri, and then laughing with my buddy Robert during a long phone call.

Then yesterday started off exactly right as I read an email from another Texas friend, Russ, who is also my first reader.

Days earlier, he had found a humorous typo in the fairly somber short story, “Finally Home.” The story was based on the song “Seven Spanish Angels.”

The typo consisted of me writing “hung” in place of “hungry.” (I regularly and inadvertently omit the D from past-tense words. I had omitted the RY from hungry.

The sentence was the POV character’s observation as he passed by a barrel-hook cactus in a moonlit arroyo as he crossed it. The side of the cactus had been chewed out by “hung” javelinas. (grin)

In his email, among the first I read yesterday morning, Russ wrote

“As I slowly drifted across the border of semi-consciousness separating slumber from wakefulness, I thought I heard someone whisper this juicy tidbit of south-of-the-border gossip: ‘Harvey heard Hortensia’s hung javelinas had hungrily harassed her husband José’.”

I laughed so hard I almost cried. Great start to the day. Thanks again, Russ. (grin)

The Fun Continues

Get yourself a cuppa, settle in, and check out the podcast Vin Zandri did this past Friday, featuring yours truly. Yesterday, I purloined it, called it “The Vin & Harvey Show.” (grin) I swear, he and I could work up a pretty good Vaudeville act.

No wait. That’s all over, right? Anyway, here, Go to the podcast.

Oh! And Adam Kozak! That was the “other guy” I mentioned yesterday who commented during the live stream on Friday.

Thanks for your comments, Adam, and for your recurring donation. Believe me, it helps, and I appreciate it. And sorry I missed seeing your name on the first go-round on Friday.

Here’s a topic you handed me on a platter, and thanks for that too:

Researching Fiction

Research adds verisimilitude (I love that word), the layering-on of details that add veracity to a story. Vin Zandri travels a lot, especially to Italy, and uses what he learns in his stories.

If you’re like me and you can’t or don’t travel a lot, Google Earth, especially “street view,” is an excellent option for nabbing details of the setting in which your story takes place.

But mostly, I do what I call spot research.

For example, preceeding a recent hit (killing) in a recent Blackwell Ops novel, TJ Blackwell recommened a particular restaurant in Ipanema (an outlying area of Rio de Janiero) for the hit.

As the story was unfolding and the operative decided he would probably do the hit there, I popped online and looked at internal and external photos of a real restaurant.

The whole resarch trip online took about fifteen seconds. But it quickly added tons of authenticity to the scene, and I was right back to writing the novel as it unfolded.

In another scene set in Cleveland, a neighborhood café was an alternate location for a hit. The operative finally decided not to use it. The name and description of the café was all fiction, but typical of the thousand or so I’ve been in personally.

I also learned in a few seconds online, the name of the actual Rio de Janiero and Cleveland international airports. Stuff like that matters.

But as Adam wrote in one of his comments on the live episode of The Writer’s Life, it’s all fiction. That’s important to remember. Also he you said, the main thing is to have fun writing the story itself. Nothing could be more true.

The story itself doesn’t matter anyway. It’s only a few minutes (short story) or hours (novel) entertainment, nothing more. What is important, what matters, is that you write.

I also learned a long while ago that generally you can get away (in fiction) with one big lie.

In the Wes Crowley saga, that lie (as I think I said on the show) was that Amarillo, Texas even existed in the late 1800s (it didn’t) and that a company of Texas Rangers was stationed there.

The point is, Amarillo should have existed, and there should have been a Ranger company stationed there. And that’s what fiction is all about. Putting the truth in its proper perspective. (grin)

Pretty much all the other details in the Crowley novels, and in the Blackwell Ops novels and the Journey Home (SF) novels and the Stern Talbot: PI mystery series and the Nick Spalding action-adventure series are either true or shaded only slightly off true. Same with all of my one-off novels and novellas and all of my short stories.

Verisimilitude comes down to taking your time with the details of the setting. And that’s SO easy to do. Here’s the secret in two parts:

1. Write EVERYTHING the POV character notices (sees, hears, smells, tastes and feels, physically or emotionally) about the setting, no matter how insignificant or off-target it seems at the time.

Trust the POV character. If the detail was insignificant or off-target, s/he wouldn’t have noticed it. If it isn’t significant by the time the scene ends, it will figure into the story later.

2. And DON’T put in ANYthing that you, the author, “thinks” should be there.

If you’ll do your best to follow those two guidelines, you’ll be golden. And if you do spot research, you won’t get bogged down in internet rabbit holes. (grin)


Those of you who are participating in the Bradbury Challenge and would like me to report your progress, be sure to get your story titles, word count and genre (or not) into me sometime today or tonight.

Vignettes, short stories, novellas and novels (weekly progress) are allowed.

You Can Subscribe on the Website Now

Repeating from yesterday, I finally found (and manipulated) an imbedded form and added it to its own page on the Journal So now you can subscribe to the substack and receive the Journal free in your inbox each morning if you want, without even going to Substack.

Check it out.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

ChatGPT Analysis of the Typical Structure of Ernest Hemingway’s Novels If you’d like to see how your novels stack up against some of the greats (or how much you’ve learned about writing without even realizing it), there are three more posts about other writers just above this one: Faulkner, Tolstoy, and Steele.

Little Writing Pests A rare, myth free post.

Why Bookstores Can’t Avoid Politics See PG’s excellent take.

“The Innocent” FLASH SALE, Free Audio Codes, and New Vella Episodes, Oh MY

The Numbers

The Journal……………………………… 1260

Writing of Blackwell Ops 11: Jeremy Stiles (novel)
A Circle of Doubt

Day 1…… 5214 words. To date…… 5214
Day 1…… 2657 words. To date…… 7871

Fiction for September…………………… 65233
Fiction for 2023………………………… 217542
Fiction since August 1………………… 102955
Nonfiction for October……………… 23870
Nonfiction for the year……………… 199600
Annual consumable words………… 417082

2023 Novels to Date……………………… 4
2023 Novellas to Date…………………… 0
2023 Short Stories to Date……………… 6
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………… 75
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)…………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)… 234
Short story collections…………………… 31

If You Want to Donate

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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.

4 thoughts on “Researching Fiction”

  1. Hello,
    Research is my weakness. I like the idea the spot research, I will use it. Otherwise, while I don’t know where the story goes, I don’t know what to research, either. After all, I can’t know everything…
    Are there other kind of researches you do?

    • Great comment, Balázs. I should have mentioned this in the post. The reason I only do “spot research” is BECAUSE I don’t know where the story’s going. If one of my characters ends up in Detroit, I spot research to see what the airport is called and anything else significant to the present place in the story. If one of my characters has to fly to Madagascar, I pop online and research that for the airport of the city she’ll fly into, etc. If I’m not familiar with the terrain, I also might open Google Earth to put pictures in my mind of what the terrain, trees etc. look like. So that’s why I do spot research in the first place, because nothing’s planned in advance.

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