The Fun of Fake Research and How to Avoid It

We know what we believe and no pile of facts or expert opinions will propel us out of our comfortable Lazy-Boy of certitude.

But we are missing one of the greatest joys of writing: research.research in times of Fake News

Even if you disagree with every fact you uncover, research is fun, researching for a book or article can become the project itself, every bit as agreeable as an afternoon spent on Pinterest.

Oh look, puppies!

I teach a class on critical thinking and writing so much of my rant about research and the veracity there in, is to prevent students from  quoting urban legends or common wisdom, or FOX news.  Yes, you say, still seated comfortably, perhaps pulling a beer from the cooler embedded into the chair arm, but research is just for academics, I write fiction, no need to research, it’s my world building against yours.

That was BG.  Before Google.  In the happy past, women knew their place, white men made a living wage tightening wing nuts and  fiction writers used to be more or less exempt from research, it was our world after all, get over it.  But like the wing-nut tightening business, the industry changed.     

Everyone can look up everything.  Which means that you, the author, need to be more diligent with your facts and claims and yes, do more research, which will lead to the problem stated above, the more you love the research, the fewer words will end up in your final book.

So we have two challenges:  You need to do research, but  the research will quickly take on a life of its own through no fault of yours (puppies).

What to do?

  1. Haul yourself out of the recliner.
  2. Limit the research to three credible sources.
  3. Look for consensus and then just write from there.

Credible?  How the heck can I know what is credible?

Ask a couple of questions about the site, or journal, or white paper you’ve just encountered on your digging search:

Commercial or Academic? 

Is the information you found   just advertising copy?  Double check against another site to be sure.    

Links to corroborating sites.

Look for links to other sites – often academic and legitimate sites cheerfully link to more information or to deeper sources.  Flow the links from  one site to the next to next.

For an academic paper your goal is to find the original sources, kind of like finding the source of the Amazon.  Sometimes it feels like it takes that long as well but it’s worth it, just to be very clear.

Can you find the original article? ( I’m looking at you Huffington Post.)

Dig deep and find the original article or journal rather than just believing, and quoting, the first time you see the comment.   

Yes, you can start with Wikipedia

Believe it or not, as much as academic denigrate Wikipedia  Wikipedia isn’t a bad way to start  your research.  Just don’t end there.  Ever.  Yet, the OED was essentially crowd sourced, and Wikipedia is gaining legitimacy.  However, I’m still a fan of digging deeper.

Contact the author.

Is there an email?  Can you contact the author of the web site or journal article?  Can you ask them a direct question about what you need to know?  Probably. Give it a try. You know yourself that you love to be considered an expert in your field, give that compliment to another author, they may respond with   great information.   

Or did the author of the web site post  a selfie  wearing a colander covered in tin foil? A professional tip: don’t reference that site.

If you are writing  fiction, you may want to write the novel first, then research only what you need to research. That will help narrow your search and allow you time to actually write, rather than  just research as fun as it is.

Oh, and did you know you can create pin boards that track your research, discuss your work in progress and are all about your book?   Sorry.  Now you’ll never get that book started . . . But aren’t the puppies cute?  Make a Pinterest board.

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Why Your Characters Matter

“First, find out what your hero wants. Then just follow him.”

~Ray Bradbury

Ask me about a favorite book – and I’ll describe the heroine.

We often, if pressed, remember key points of a plot, but what really sticks in our heads are the characters.  We remember the who over the how, and before the what.   

Do we love Jane Austen’s books because of the  intricate plots? Not really.

The story? Please, we know the story. What we love are the characters, the strong women who get into trouble because they blurt out what they are thinking, the handsome hero who is just misunderstood, the spunky friend for whom we wish as much happiness as we wish for the heroine. We may not relate to the plot, but we certainly identify with a well developed character.

Listen to what you say when you play a movie for the fifth time, it’s not

about the plot or the story — you just want to see the hero or heroine again.

“I love him.” You murmur under your breath.

That said, how on earth do you do it?

One way is to open a comic book. (Bonus, the trip to the comic store can be called research.  You’re welcome.)

Comics have great heroes.  Take a look at three or four heroes and deconstruct them:

What motivates them?Why characters matter, Catharine Bramkamp

What do they look like?

What are their tags?

What is their super power?

Their kryptonite?

Love interest?

Why do they wear a mask? (Think of this metaphorically for your own heroine)

As simplistic as is sounds, just taking a look at Iron Man, Batman, and/or Cat Woman can give you a strong idea of how to create an equally strong character.

Once you have your character, start throwing obstacles at them, and watch what they do.

To learn more.
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Why Inspiration is So Difficult

 

Inspiration for writingDon’t Write Like You Talk
What I learned from agents & authors, publishers & poets

How do you get inspired?  And why is it so difficult to wrestle that inspiration into words let alone into something as coherent as a poem or a novel or a self-help book?  And how do you court inspiration?

Part of the problem we have with inspiration  is that inspiration is often depicted in cartoons or novels or film  as fun, fast and fantastic.  The lightbulb pops up over a character’s head at exactly the right time (thus moving the plot along).  It is delivered in a song, it floats down to characters during a dreamy afternoon paddling on a lake, it is easy.

So what the heck right?  What if we don’t  sing, and there is no lake nearby, and the only light bulb I have access to is on my emoji keyboard.

Inspiration does not necessarily work like magic. But it does work.

Inspiration, delivered by  a perverse Muse often arrives at seriously  inconvenient times, like when you are driving.

Or when you are scrubbing the toilet.

Here’s the good news:  We all drive and we all have toilets.

Inspiration is often not up to you, it is, I believe, a product of successful courting of the capricious  Muse.  Inspiration is often a result of input: books, films, theater, conversation. 

Inspiration comes when you’ve learned so much, the material finally reaches critical mass and you get inspired.   

While you are negotiating heavy traffic.

And you think – now?  Now you visit me oh Muse who is not paying attention to my daily schedule.

And the Muse puts her hands on her hips and says “well do you want it or not?  Because there’s a guy in the lane behind you who will take this great idea and run with it if you are too lazy to pull out a napkin from Starbucks and that pencil stub from yesterday’s golf game and scribble this down.

And so you do.

And because you stuffed your brain with images and ideas and both good literature, great literature and bad literature, you are prepared to know what it is, what the difference is, and you see that yes, yes it’s original and wonderful and inspired.

That’s often how it works.  So read something, watch something.  Go scrub the toilet.  If you don’t get inspired for your writing – at least the bathroom is clean.

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Why Bother Writing?

Why Bother Writing?Don’t Write Like You Talk
What I learned from agents & authors, publishers & poets

We feed blogs, we write tweets, we compose witty Facebook posts. Why bother writing a whole book?

Because like Half Dome, it’s there.

Because a book will sit on your shelf and remind you, every day, that you are a real author. A book is the mute testimony of a Herculean effort that few accomplish.   A book proves something.  To you and to the world at large.

Books come in many irritations, but most would agree that there is nothing like the real thing.  There is power in holding a book in your hand. 

That’s why you sweat and toil and try to figure out this weeks version  of the publishing system.

(Once you learn about the big publishers, you will run screaming from your computer, cower in a corner, suck your thumb, then realize it’s much easier to publish the damn thing yourself.)

Books are not  lightly cast aside.  Books are important. They wouldn’t be burned if they weren’t.  Kindle books can be erased, but for drama?  Fire. – 451  Fahrenheit for the home game.

We write books because we believe in our words and what we have to say.

We bother writing a book because it’s real.

And we know that being real is not only the ultimate goal of every  Velveteen Rabbit, it’s ours too.

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Writing is Imporant

Don't Write Like You TalkDon’t Write Like You Talk
What I learned from agents & authors, publishers & poets

Writing a book is important. But before you get all puffed up, so is knitting.    

Writing is an art.  Writing is also a hobby.  My friend Myrna  knits beautiful socks as holiday gifts to family.    My friend Terry cooks amazing meals and share them with lucky me. My mother makes greeting cards.  My sister in law creates an elaborate Halloween scene for the local trick or treaters. A number of my friends travel and happily share their experiences with me so my trip will be even better.

What do I do?  I write.  Sometimes I share, but more often than not, I don’t.  Because unlike socks, writing isn’t a really welcome holiday gift.  Wine is better.  Bourbon is much better.

I write because it’s important to me, to my health and well-being.  Writing is my way to organize the world.  It can be yours too. 

I officially give you permission to write for love.  Write because describing the sky makes it bluer.  Write because detailing the grass makes it softer.  Write because it feeds you like  twice baked potatoes.

Why is it important to write?  Because you are making sense of  the   world  and if you do a good job, you’ll help others see what you see, and make some sense themselves. 

 

Visit us on iTunes  – Newbie Writers Podcast – new episodes start again in January 2017
Check out our upcoming book Don’t Write Like We Talk that will be published eventually.  All you need to do is wait . . .  Like us.
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