Last year on Criminal Minds at Work, I blogged about using news headlines for research and inspiration. However, there are many other fun ways to dig out the facts that lend credence to fiction.
I’ve participated in some hot debates on writers’ forums about whether or not fiction needs to be credible. Some readers are quite willing to suspend disbelief for the sake of a good story. Others are turned off by the slightest anachronism. I imagine editors are likewise split on the issue. Some genres, such as fantasy (and often romance) commonly break the boundary of commonsense, while others such as historical and crime fiction seem to appeal to a more critical and rational readership. So, while a superhero in a fantasy novel might leap tall buildings in a single bound, readers don’t want a forest ranger hauling a body out of the water into his canoe. (Oh, oh….tipsy! Rescuer better know how to swim.)
Of everything I’ve learned about researching for fiction, the best advice I received was to write the story so skillfully that, factual or not, it's believable. I obviously need to work on that skill as I’ve had editors question the believability of my stories, even though they have been thoroughly researched. *sigh* Sometimes truth is just stranger than fiction.
One of the best sources of information for my novels is simply life, itself. I’ve bought life insurance so I know the payout can bypass the estate and be paid directly to the beneficiary (or the minor beneficiary’s appointed trustee) within days of death. So, when my young heroine needs a quick cash injection to buy her way into the drug world, I kill off her parents.
A while back, I looked into opening a savings account for my new grandson. I discovered it is very easy to open juvenile bank accounts—accounts without limits and to which adults in the kid’s life have no access. That little fact added depth and conflict to my story. (THE TRAZ)
The course on firearms arms safety that enabled me to get my Possession and Acquisition Licence was a rich source of information on guns. (Did you know the word “bullet” is often misused? Depending on the circumstance, “cartridge” or “shell” might be the correct word.)
My varied education, careers, and travels have given me a wealth of knowledge and experiences. As has motherhood, business ownership, and grocery shopping. I know that snow crunches beneath my boots, that two-wheeled vehicles are not allowed outside urban centres in South Korea, and that peonies usually bloom in June.
Paying attention to the details of your life, engaging people in conversation, and asking lots and lots of questions of everybody you meet will pay off big time when you finally settle in to write.
Happy New Year to all my fans, friends, and family. 2011 is definitely going to be a great year for me—I’ll see the release of my first published novel!
Schrödinger’s Cat, a traditionally published psychological crime thriller spanning two universes, will be out in both print and ebook formats in August. As well, I’m planning to release a self-published ebook, The Traz, the prequel to my Back Tracker crime series.
Until next time, keep writing the wrongs.
So much for making the plot believable, how can one ensure the characters are?
For further discussion on the role of facts in fiction, check out Magic of the Muses
Eileen Schuh, Author