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Archive for January 12th, 2012
You’ve probably never heard of Arcadia Publishing, but I’m sure you’re aware of them. They produce the nearly 6000 title deep Images of America series. Those are the books you’ve seen at every gift store and the “local interest” or “local history” sections of every bookstore. They’ve got the sepia toned covers with black shields outlined in red. You know. These. There, you’ve seen those before, you know what they are. They’re short and rely on local authorities and public domain black-and-white images in a formula that must work if they’ve put out 5762 of them.
You probably never thought about who actually researches and writers these Images of America books. I have, only because I know someone who is on contract with them. She did the writing and photo collecting for their book on Maryland’s Lighthouses and is currently working on their upcoming pictorial history of Falls Church, VA. Although she writes non-fiction and I write fiction, we still compare notes occasionally, and I’ve even hooked her on Scrivener as a writing tool and distraction. Last night we both set out to write, and I’ll admit slightly more success for one very essential reason, that wonderful and glorious advantage of fiction:
I was making everything up.
Research is hard. Getting stuff right is hard. I know, because that was my writing the night before. That’s the scene where I have a character considering his choices of handguns, cleaning them, and considering the advantages of each. This meant a lot of on-the-spot research. Fortunately, the internet is great for such things (unfortunately for my friend the non-fiction writer, most of her research necessitates the library). I could, with just a few searches, find sites that detailed the rifling of the 1851 Navy Colt, as well as the proper cleaning methods. Sure, I could have put in a place holder [RESEARCH GOES HERE] but the character is taking what amounts to non-fictional actions (cleaning the Colt and a Le Mat revolver) while also taking fiction actions (talking to a Steampunk automaton). Whenever I’m simultaneously blending the two, I want to have my research in place so I know how long the fictional actions must take to line up.
Then last night my character got to holster the gun and be entirely fictional. Riding through a fictional state to a fictional plantation to talk to a fictional person. Fantastic! I went from a few hundred words during the night of research to twice as many in less time as I could just let my fingers and imagination loose on the page.
But, in the end, we are all going to be non-fiction writers at times. It’s when those pesky facts get in the way. Even in the most abstracted fantasy or future flung science fiction, there’s likely that one annoying tidbit of real world information that requires a trip through Wikipedia to more verifiable sources, and potentially even to the research section of the local library. Don’t short change those. As I’ve discussed in the past, these are going to be the elements that your reader will crucify you on. Especially as the story gets more fantastic, the real bits (what I think of as the non-fiction bits) need to be more dead on, as they’re the one place the reader will expect to turn off his suspension of disbelief.
So do your research. And then come back and make shit up. Because that’s really the fun part.