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Research: When in Doubt, Make It Up

Research: When in Doubt, Make It Up

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Published by K.M. Weiland
So long as you’ve exhausted your avenues of research, and so long as you’ve got a little chutzpah on your side, you can fake what you don't know, and readers will never notice the glue between the cracks.
So long as you’ve exhausted your avenues of research, and so long as you’ve got a little chutzpah on your side, you can fake what you don't know, and readers will never notice the glue between the cracks.

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Published by: K.M. Weiland on Sep 12, 2010
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05/12/2014

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Writers have mixed opinions on research. Some of us love it; some of us hateit. Either way, none of us can deny its necessity. If we have any hopes of presenting realistic settings and authentic characters, we have no choice butto go digging for answers. But what happens when answers are nowhere tobe found?I’m a bit of a research junkie, as anyone can attest who has seen themountains of books I bring home from the library during research jags beforewriting a book. If there’s an avenue of research within my grasp, I’m sure totake it: books, letters, movies, documentaries, museums, online forums, youname it. Without doubt, it’s always time intensive, often difficult, andoccasionally frustrating. But it’s always worth it in the end when a readercomments on the verisimilitude of my medieval setting in
Behold the Dawn
,or the fact that they can almost taste the Wyoming dust after reading
 A ManCalled Outlaw 
.But what readers don’t know is that for every realistic detail I dug up duringmy research, I probably made up two while writing. How can I get away withthis? Or, perhaps, the question should be: How
dare
I get away with this?Writers, even the brainiest of them, aren’t omniscient. Even if we’vepersonally experienced whatever it is we’re writing about—autumn in NewYork City, saddling a horse, crash landing in the Amazon—we’re not going toremember every detail perfectly. And if we
haven’t 
experienced what we’rewriting about (I’ve never been Palestine or Syria, and I’ve certainly never
Research: When in Doubt, Make It Up
www.wordplay-kmweiland.blogspot.comwww.kmweiland.com
 
been in a gunfight), we’re inevitably going to mess up details without evenrealizing it.But you know what? That’s okay. So long as you’ve exhausted your avenues of research, and so long as you’ve got a little chutzpah on your side, you canfake what you don’t know, and readers will never notice the glue between thecracks. In her September 2010
Writer's Digest 
article, Elizabeth Sims concurs:You’re writing a key scene, and you realize that you really need toknow something, but it’s either impossible to find out or toocostly in time or money to do so. … If you can’t find the exactdata you need, get as close as you can and wing the rest… We[authors on a conference panel] all agreed on one thing: Whenthe chips are down, make it up.As writers we have a responsibility to accurately portray the worlds of ourstories. Accuracy is important not only in sustaining suspension of disbelief,but also in creating stories that ring true—because, after all, good fiction isalways about discovering what is true about life. Study, research, dig throughfacts like crazy to get to those nuggets of truth—those telling details—thatwill bring your story to life. But, at the end of the day, don’t forget that you’rea fiction writer. The whole point of fiction is
making things up
. So, when thosechips are down, and you’ve no idea what every inch of the terrain on yourcharacter’s journey looks like, or just what the inner workings of an atomicbomb consist of, just pretend you know what you’re talking about. Mostreaders won’t even blink twice.

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