Monday, June 01, 2009

Don’t AssUMe

On Saturday, I did a post on Using Research in Your Book. That post focused on not dumping all your research in the book, no matter how long it took you to do or how much space you used up on your computer storing it all. Especially if that book is fiction.

Today, I’m telling you to do your research. Clearly, if you’re writing about a process or equipment you know nothing about, you’re going to have to research. We’re not all born with a knowledge of guns and their kickback or how to use them. Some of us have never been in a strip club. Some have never ridden in a subway. And, yet, one or more of those things (and others) may be used or done by a character. So you have to research.

Sometimes you even have to research things you know. Or think you know. It’s better not to assume you know.

Here’s an example. From me. It’s something I knew. I did not have to research my theory because I knew it.

My husband and I went to the Dallas area to visit a friend (Bobby). We stayed at his house. In the morning, he and my husband went to play golf (on the course where said friend lives). I slept in. (Nice.) When I got up, I moseyed into the kitchen and turned on the coffee pot. Then I stood in the kitchen, sipped coffee, and watched the golfers on the green at the back of the house. Some were clearly good golfers. Some not, but no one hooked the ball through the window. (Also nice.) I wondered whether I’d spot my husband and Bobby. Then, lo and behold, I did. There they were, on the green, with two other golfers. Bobby turned and waved at me and motioned for me to come out.

Now, that’s not the end of my story, but it’s enough to tell you that I should have done some research. I had made an assumption. A wrong assumption.

I AssUMed that since the golfers were outside in the bright sunlight and I was in the darkened kitchen, I could see them and they could not see me. I AssUMed wrong.

Not only was I wrong, I was in my pajama shirt. Cup halfway to my mouth. Quietly backing up behind a kitchen counter.

Sometimes even what you know needs to be verified.
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  1. ha! way to make me laugh with this one.

  2. Good thing you didn't join them, then!

    L. Diane Wolfe

  3. Good point, and a hysterical example. :)

    The Old Silly from Free Spirit Blog

  4. It wasn't particularly funny at the time. But it is now!

  5. oops!

  6. Oh, too funny! You're right...sometimes we need to think things through from every angle. :)

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  7. Assuming is always dangerous. Enjoyed your example of why!

    Jane Kennedy Sutton

  8. Oh boy, have I done that too. It's good to have a sense of humor about it.

  9. So... there you are in your PJs and your friend is still waving for you to come outside? Men can be a little clueless sometimes.


  10. I hadn't thought of that, Gayle! They can be.

  11. Funny story, Helen. And you are so right about not assuming. :-)

    When you mentioned strip clubs, I had to laugh. My current WIP involves scenes in a gentleman's club and my son really enjoyed helping me research that in person. :-)

  12. Lolol! Well, at least you were wearing something.

    But that's a great point, Helen. Sometimes research is neccesary with things we think we know. I know how to shoot various guns, and know the names of many and how they're used. A gun is not a gun, if you're using it with a character who is in police work, don't assume the the TV is correct about standard issue--they've changed. I know how to box, but fight scenes sometimes have to be timed out, and careful choreography used if describig the scene or someone who DOES know will go, wait a minute, you can't do an uppercut if you're in this position or that. I can cook and have done so for parties, but again, timing and knowledge comes into play if your character is a caterer or chef--not the same as being in your kitchen.

    It's the little things that can pull a reader out of your story or call into question the story line.

  13. Very right. Just because an author needs to know a good deal more about a story than what winds up in it does not mean skipping the facts in favor of the fiction. The ironic thing about make believe is that their is a certain amount of truth required in order to allow readers to suspend disbelief. Thanks for posting this!


  14. Maryann, the things a writer has to do for her craft!

    Sia, you are now my go-to person for guns, boxing and catering. I've often thought there should be an online group you could go to to ask questions and somewhere in the group you'd find an expert. Is there a group specifically for that?

    Lisa, that's true with any book. It's demonstrated clearly in sci-fi or fantasy. The worlds in those books would not be believable if they weren't based in reality.

  15. Funny story and great point. And I might ass about the assumption issue, don't think you can fudge something and your readers won't notice or know the difference. I write fantasy and some futuristic. Even though I don't use a great deal of heavy science, I always make sure what I do use is correct.

  16. OMG!

    You could've been talking about me. My office has a front window. I open the blinds in the morning. In just about the same state of dress as you.

    Men, women, school kids. Yikes!

    Maybe I'll get dressed first from now on. Or turn on the lights and leave the blinds closed.

    Thanks for enlightening me.

  17. Susan, I think fantasy writers have a really tough job. They have to create new worlds, people, abilities, etc., and yet make them believable.

    Oh, Carol, I have a worse story that I didn't tell. Different situation (I do learn and not repete the same mistake), but probably worse. I think that's so funny that you've been flashing the neighborhood in the mornings! Tee-hee.

  18. That is too funny! Now that you've done the research the question to use the experience with one of your characters ;)

    Nancy, from Just a Thought…

  19. LOL, I think you should go out and do a turn for them.

    In Quest of Theta Magic

  20. Nancy, that is, of course, a brilliant idea. And one that I have not used - yet.

    Enid, you must be a braver person than I. I ran to the bedroom and put on clothes!

  21. Great post, Helen! This one made me laugh. Well told.


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