Insecure Writers’ Support Group Post for February 5, 2014

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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.

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7 thoughts on “Insecure Writers’ Support Group Post for February 5, 2014

  1. You’ve hit upon the problem with research. Not enough and you’ll turn off a reader with wrong details. Too much because it’s so easy when you hit a good research site to keep clicking links and it’s fun to learn so much. Then you’re doing more research than writing. Finding the balance isn’t easy. Re: short-wave radio. Wasn’t there a movie about a kid who contacted his dead father (in the past) via short-wave radio? Frequency, not sure. Good luck with your story.

  2. OMGosh we are the same person! Right now I feel the need to get a degree in physics because I don’t think I’ll get my answers or “realism” for the story any other way. Plus, it would be cool. However, I’m probably not that smart.

    My first thought is you should find someone who already has a ham radio license and have them help you. Then I think about how hard it is to find someone willing to do just that. Oh, they are willing, but they think you only need one or two questions answered–not a week’s worth of intense discussion, diagrams, demonstrations, experiments and hands on practice so you can write that one scene.

    In the end, I have to tell you what I try to tell myself (mostly unsuccessfully), research the best you can, write it the best you can and then let it go. Dang it! Letting go when you know it could be more authentic if you just KNEW is so hard.

    Good luck!

    • For the next draft, I think I will do something like that; for now, I have a couple articles from ham sites and one from Wikipedia that will let me fake my way through without having to skip over the scene. I’m trying very hard not to skip over scenes in this draft because I’ve found that that way lies never getting anything done.

  3. In my first novel I had a pivotal scene around a square dance. Of course I had done some square dancing in elementary school, but, just like you said, I wanted it to be real. So I read all I could online and then, I took my family and some friends to a square dance. The group met once a month (who knew?) and we had a blast. It was very helpful to my story. Even more than what I could read about online. The research I did before though, helped me know what to expect.

    I bet you could search Google for someone or a club in your area that specializes in shortwave radios. You wouldn’t have to get a license…just some hands on practice. My experience with people who have knowledge that I don’t: they are so happy to share it.

    Good Luck,
    Leanne Ross ( readfaced.wordpress.com & @LeanneRossRF )

  4. Oh that does sound like fun! And like I said above, I’ll probably do that for the next draft, which will be the one I’m preparing to actually show to people other than me.

    And thank you!

  5. It never fails to amaze me how much research is needed when writing my mystery novels. It’s fun but I always fail to allow enough time in my writing timeline. Then I still worry about the results, so far my experts have told me I’ve been accurate. Hoping the same for book three in the series!

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