Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for July, 2011

Today’s Writers’ Tip: Research for Nonfiction

 (SURPRISE! Yes, this post is three days early. But I’m going to a writers’ conference next week and won’t be back until Friday. I’m so busy from now until then that I needed to post this blog today. Enjoy!)

 Research for Nonfiction

“Well, that’s a no-brainer,” you say. “Even if you’re writing your life history, you’d probably need an ancient facts book to see what REALLY BIG happened the year you were born. Duh. Nonfiction means ‘no fakey talkey.’”

Right. We all assume, and correctly, that nonfiction requires research, except maybe if you’re writing poetry, although you need to keep your facts straight there, too, if you’re writing practically anything but mushy love notes.

What I’d like to discuss is the importance of keeping good notes and doing the necessary research to make your manuscript a reliable and trustworthy document.

Yes, Google has brought to all of us a library on our desks in our homes. But, please forget Wikipedia for all your research. It’s all right to use it as a reference, but sometimes online sources are not 100% accurate. You need to spend some time at the library. And not just hanging around the encyclopedia shelves either.

Let’s say you plan to write a coffee table book that would attract sports car racing fans. You want to find facts and photos about “The First Car Races in the United States.”

Online searches and encyclopedias are a good place to start, but only a good place to start. Where else can you find information about early car races? Let’s list a few:

  1. Libraries (more than one, including public libraries and college libraries), which should have a wealth of all kinds of books about the topic
  2. Racing magazine archives
  3. Biographies and autobiographies of famous “car people” like Henry Ford
  4. Race tracks, contemporary race car drivers, local auto racing clubs
  5. Race car museums
  6. Manufacturing plants of race cars

There are just a few ideas of where you could get your facts for your project.

So after you start collecting the facts, what’s the best way to save them?

Of course, an accurate bibliography is essential. I recommend keeping all your notes not only on paper in a file but feeding them into a computer file and on back-up flash drives or CDs for safe keeping, as well. You never know what might happen to just one file, either in the computer or outside of it. I’ve lost items much bigger than a file of papers in my feeble-brained moments.

I can’t express more clearly at this time the importance of keeping that bibliography as detailed as you can. If at all possible, record publishing dates and companies of all facts gathered. Record phone numbers, addresses, and email addresses of all folks interviewed, or the sources of all information (if available), and don’t skimp on the details. You just might need to “prove” to your editor that your facts are correct.

Case in Point: when I wrote my ladies’ Bible study guide, DRAW ME CLOSER, LORD, A WOMAN’S GUIDE TO A MEANINGFUL PRAYER LIFE, several years back, I took a full year to write it because of the research involved. I used not only the Bible extensively, but I also used 19 other resources, all of them books, many written by famous pastors or missionaries on the topic of prayer, to substantiate my statements. I also had to do research for every song lyric or poem I quoted at the end of each of the ten lessons. I needed to know if the words I wished to copy were in the public domain, (older than 70 years for the hymns I wanted to use), or did I have to acquire permission to use the words or even purchase the rights such as in the case of a Helen Steiner Rice poem, which I wanted to quote two or three lines. (That purchase price was extremely high, so I used another poem with no reprint fee—one of my own!)

I vividly remember talking to the editor at the publishing company who had contracted with me for the Bible study guide. She made it quite clear to me that it was MY responsibility to send her all the “permission slips” to use any other author’s poems or any composer’s lyrics. I also remember that she told me I had to have documentation from said authors or composers to send to her before the company would publish the book.

Well, now, if I hadn’t written down where I had found some of the poems I wanted to use or some of the hymns’ lyrics, I would have been in a big research waning mess. But, fortunately, I had documented all of the above.

I remember one incident when I found the phone number (I don’t remember how) of one of the poets whose poem I wished to use. I called the number, and the poet’s husband answered, telling me that his wife had passed away several years past. After I offered him my condolences, I explained that I wanted to use one of her poems in my book, and he graciously consented to send me a written statement, which I then forwarded to my editor.

Now, can you see what it took me a full year to write the Bible study guide? Accuracy takes time!

So, my strongest note of encouragement to you is to keep accurate and detailed notes of every little tidbit of information you use. You have no idea what your editor will ask for. And if you decide to self publish, you need all the more to be accurate and to have permission when permission to copy is due. One thing you don’t need accompanying the joy of seeing your name in print is a lawsuit in tomorrow’s mailbox.

Next time, I’ll discuss “Developing a Plot for your Fiction that’s Outside the Box!”

Happy writing!

Marsha

www.susquehannavalleywritersworkshop.wordpress.com

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Writers’ Tip for the Day: The Essential Details of Research for your Fiction

 

What? Research for fiction when I’m making it all up in my brilliant head?

Yes, you need to do research even though your story is “make-believe.”

The editors with whom I worked to publish three different juvenile fiction books or series all demanded accuracy when it came to “the facts.”

In my Keystone Stables book number seven, WHISPERING HOPE, a small barn fire causes the local fire company to come to the Chambers’ ranch to, of course, put out the fire. So, what, or who, would show up to put out a potentially dangerous flame that could destroy acres of property and farmland?

To be absolutely correct in my manuscript, I interviewed a local fireman and got all the details of who, what, where, when, and why. Following is that scene with all “the facts” included accurately:

**********************************************************************

Skye followed Mrs. Chambers outside just as two screaming fire engines, a tanker, and an ambulance, all with flashing lights, barreled down the driveway and pulled a short distance from the barn. The trucks and their commotion lit up the place like a firemen’s carnival. As far as Skye could tell, about ten firemen scrambled from the trucks and started their assigned tasks.

Moving to the far side of the barn, Mr. Chambers continued to spray water on the fire. “I think it just started!” he yelled to anyone who would listen.

“Is there anyone in the barn?” one fireman yelled.

“No!” Mr. Chambers yelled. “We just got all the horses out!”

Another fireman asked, “Do you have a pond on your property?”

“Yes,” Mr. Chambers answered, “at the bottom of the fenced-in pasture.”

“Freeburg’s trucks should be here any sec,” the fireman said. “Open your gate, so their tanker can fill up.”

Mr. Chambers dropped his garden hose and raced toward the gate.

Skye stared at the scene while two men quickly slid a large plastic holding tank off the truck and started pumping water from the tanker into it. One fireman grabbed some kind of line or hose from another truck and pulled it to the plastic tank where he plugged it in. Two other men shoulder-loaded a hose from the first truck and stretched it the length of the barn. A pair of men from another truck donned breathing apparatus, grabbed fire extinguishers and hatchets, and started toward the barn.

The men with the outstretched hose started spraying water on the flames in the loft while two men from the second truck prepped their hose.

Still coughing, Skye watched the firemen perform their duties with the precision that only drill after drill had produced. Every man knew exactly what to do to put out the fire and save the barn from total destruction.

Out of the ambulance hopped two EMTs. Carrying small cases, they rushed toward Mrs. Chambers and Skye. “Are you all right?” asked a chubby female in a navy blue uniform.

Mrs. Chambers gestured toward Skye and spoke through a series of coughs. “We … got our lungs full of smoke, but we’re okay. Just let us… catch our breath.”

“Do you need any oxygen?” a tall thin EMT with a beard asked.

“I think… we’re okay,” Skye managed to say. “We were in the barn… just long enough to get the horses out.”

Gasping, Mr. Chambers joined the group while his glare never left the barn.

“Sir,” the male EMT asked Mr. Chambers, “are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Mr. Chambers said. “I didn’t breathe in any smoke… I’m just winded.”

With blasting sirens and flashing lights, three more fire trucks and another ambulance barreled down the driveway. They clattered to the far side of the barn and pulled to a screeching halt. One busy fireman in front of the barn ran to the tanker and shouted something to the driver. As the firemen hopped off the engines, the tanker backed up, maneuvered around the other trucks, and headed toward the pond.

Mrs. Chambers grabbed Skye by both shoulders and glared into her face. “Skye … where’s Wanda?”

Skye’s eyes grew as round as saucers. “Mom… I completely forgot to tell you… she wasn’t in her bed.” She then pointed at the barn. “She might be in there!”

“Wan-da!” Mrs. Chambers screamed and started running toward the barn, but Mr. Chambers grabbed her arm and stopped her. “You stay here!” he yelled. “I’ll go in.”

“You can’t go in there!” an EMT yelled.

“I have to,” he said. “One of our girls is in there!”

Mr. Chambers ran to a firemen gearing up and told him about Wanda.

“Mike!” the fireman yelled back to the hosemen. “There might be a kid in there. We’re going in.”

“Okay,” one said. Turning his water on, he and his partner streamed a second powerful surge of water into the barn’s loft.

(From WHISPERING HOPE by Marsha Hubler, pp. 60-62)

**********************************************************************

There you have an example of the detail required to make a scene come alive with truth in action. I trust that you felt like you were standing right next to Skye, watching everything that was going on.

In another one of my fiction books, THE SECRET OF WOLF CANYON, the plot centers around Civil War gold coins hidden in a canyon that the main characters, three teen girl junior detectives, have to find. I make several referrals to the Battle of Gettysburg, including a map or two in the manuscript; so, of course, much research went into being accurate with the details about the coins and the battlefield. I used encyclopedias and the Internet for my research.

Oh, by the way, one of the publishing companies’ editors’ main jobs is to make sure their authors get their stories straight. The editors, in turn, must do their own research to verify the words we authors have written.

So, my point is this: when writing fiction, make sure you get “the facts” straight. I suppose the only subgenre in which you wouldn’t need much research is if you’re writing fantasy that takes place in a brand new world. You can make up your own laws, rules, details, and creatures which need to follow no standard. However, if you’re writing about anything or anyone here on planet earth, do your homework, and make your story as true to life as you can, even if it’s all a big lie.

Next time, I’ll discuss research with nonfiction manuscripts.

Marsha

Register now for our super October conference!

www.susquehannavalleywritersworkshop.wordpress.com

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: