From this month’s main post:
Every writer is at a different stage of the journey and no two paths are identical. We do have a few things in common though – we all fight insecurity and we all need support. We’re looking for guidance, encouragement, and answers to our questions. We can find all of that here online, through the IWSG postings, the Facebook group, and the resources on this website. […]What do you need help with today?
Ham radios. Specifically, how to use a ham or shortwave or even a Citizen’s Band (CB) radio to contact someone else in another city. In my current WIP, I have a character using a radio to contact someone else and I’m not sure how to go about it. I know it probably doesn’t work like a telephone and I have done a bit of Googling so that I can at least write the scene I have in mind and move on to other things (with the caveat that I’ll clean the scene itself up during editing), but I still have a little voice nagging at the back of my head that I’m writing about something that I know nothing about and I shouldn’t be doing that and I need to go research and figure this out exactly so that the scene will be right, dangit!
Of course, if I listen to that little voice I would have to go out and get a shortwave radio operator’s license before I could come back and write a scene that is one small part of one chapter of a potentially twenty chapter book. The characters involved are minor characters and while the scene is important, it’s not because of the radio message. It’s because of something that gets said while the characters are talking before/during/after the sending of the message. So, yeah, while a shortwave radio operator’s license would be pretty freakin’ awesome to have, it’s a bit overkill-y for me to go get one. Particularly when I have access to Google, not to mention my local library and their interlibrary loan program (which is seriously so on beyond awesome, I am not kidding! I basically have access to libraries across my state!).
And this doesn’t take into consideration all the other research questions I have both big and small. For which I would, per the nagging little voice, have to go back to school and get multiple degrees, take dozens of courses to learn various skills and travel extensively and quite possibly be reincarnated half a dozen times in order to be really sure I got the details right.
I hate that little voice…
The upshot of all this is that research is important to me. I like having the facts straight when I’m writing because I feel that having the facts straight helps improve the fiction. Yes, I say this as someone whose WIPs include worlds featuring third shift vampire hunters, a reverse-Batman private eye, atompunk space pirates vs. Cthulhu and a post-WWIII world with human/chimpanzee hybrids running around. But, to me, bringing realism to ideas like this actually does help make them stronger because the realism provides sturdy hooks from which to stretch the string of disbelief, which is where the implausible/improbable/unlikely ideas are hung. If the hooks aren’t strong enough, the weight of the ideas will yank them off the walls of…uh…okay so the metaphor starts to break down a bit when you get to the walls but you get the idea. If the hooks don’t hold, the weight of the ideas will pull them out of the wall and your reader out of the story.
So, I worry a lot about getting details right in my books/stories. I wrote a fanfic once and I literally spent more time trying to figure out the details of the setting than I did writing the story itself (hour and a half on research; about an hour on the story) – because if the setting wasn’t right, the story wouldn’t have been right, or at least not right to me. I read anecdotes like Heinlein taking three days to do the calculations for an orbit in one of his juveniles – something that ended up being two sentences of text or something like that – and think that is something to aspire to because even if the reader never sees the work that goes into the story, the story itself will show the care that was taken in crafting it.
On the other side, I worry about researching too much. Or, rather, to the point where I’m really just avoiding working on the story and indulging myself in gathering interesting facts and research materials like some sort of hybrid between a librarian and a dragon. Because oh my gosh is research fun or what? Especially now that I’ve discovered interlibrary loan. But there does come a point where the research has to stop and the story telling has to begin, otherwise what’s the point of doing the research? The problem is finding that point.
And on the third side, I worry about not doing the right sort of research. More correctly, about missing the unknown-unknown, the thing that not only don’t I know but the thing that I don’t know that I don’t know. Like…well, I don’t know, do I? But the examples that come to mind are the kinds of stupid and/or offensive mistakes like details about guns or crime scenes or anachronisms — not to mention logical errors and plot holes and other goofs that can derail a story.
Of course, Worry #3 can turn into Worry #2 and grows out of Worry #1 so really, these aren’t so much separate worries as they are all a part of the same big Worry Mobius Strip that never ends and cycles around and around and around while the annoying little voice yammers at me until I force myself to shut it out and pick up my pen and do my best to write down the ideas that are in my head while also keeping track of the things that I need to know in order to polish the ideas in my head into the story that’s hiding in the back of my head.
And it also helps to know that there are people I can go to for information and advice, both on-line and off. I have a coworker who used to be a pathologist and I was able to ask her if a decapitated head would be put in its own body bag or simply put in the same bag as the rest of the body (she said separate bag). I can come on-line and find communities like IWSG as well as little_details or the Nanowrimo forums that are dedicated to answering questions.
And for that, I am eternally grateful.