Friday, August 13, 2010

Research in Fiction

As a writer, I occasionally bend reality to fit my needs but some things absolutely need to stay true. Since we don’t have cable I’ve become addicted to If you haven’t checked this site out, it’s awesome! A lot of new shows on tv are played a day or a week after they air on hulu (for free). As I’m slightly addicted to Burn Notice now I don’t have to miss my hottie Michael Westen every week. Okay, moving on and wiping the drool from my face.

Hulu also airs old shows that went off the air. There’s a show that shall remain nameless that went off the air in 2006 that I recently discovered. Basic rundown of the show. It’s about a group of FBI crisis negotiators and the FBI’s hostage rescue team (HRT). In the first episode one of the FBI’s crisis negotiators traded herself for the hostages. That would never, ever happen. Like ever. Unless that person wanted to get fired of course. Still, I can live w/ that mainly because I’ve seen it done before on tv so it’s almost as if that faux pas is accepted. The second episode however just pissed me off. The negotiator convinced one of the hostages to go back into the hostage situation. That would never happen. EVER. I might watch another episode, only if I’m bored or perhaps for blog fodder but that second episode pretty much lost me. I’m all for creative license in fiction but there are some things that need to stay true to life. This showed how little research the writers had actually done and it irked me something fierce. No surprise the show isn’t on anymore.

What about you? What’s forgivable in fiction? Not paranormal stuff, but basic contemporary fiction whether it’s romantic suspense, historical, or erotic? What’s not? I really hope I’m not guilty of some of your ‘nots’!


Wynter Daniels said...

Ridiculous police things like what you are talking about. When I watch them with DH (who is in law enforcement) he just rolls his eyes.Also medical things that don't ring true, like on House. One of my writer buddies who is a nurse practitioner can't watch any medical shows for the inaccuracies.

Savannah Stuart said...

The only medical show I watch is Royal Pains and I imagine that's chock full of nonsense, lol. And I can also imagine how frustrated your hubby gets!

Cara McKenna said...

Timely post, Savannah—I stopped in to avoid the research I'm supposed to be doing! Research is the reason I doubt I'll ever write a historical, despite how much I enjoy some of them. I'm terrified of getting the facts wrong and paying the price when I'm skewered by our mercilessly savvy readers.

I can understand why people always say "write what you know." But I don't want to write only stories that take place in Boston and star characters who are writers, graphic designers, or penguin husbandry volunteers. But I like taking real places and people and fictionalizing them instead. The bar from Shivaree, for example, is very roughly based on an actual bar I've been to in Louisiana, of which I can now only recall the basic layout and sultry vibe. Dereham, Vermont where Ruin Me is set is composite of all the small, snowy towns I've known growing up in New England.

When it comes to irrefutable facts, though, like medical stuff, law enforcement, legal practices, anything with protocol and jargon and its own internal culture…scary! Think I'll leave those to the experts.

Jina Bacarr said...

Savannah, great post on research and its pitfalls.

I'm trying to catch up with NAC posts--I just commented on Cara's blog from yesterday about stretching our boundaries: I have m/m and m/f/m in my Blonde Samurai book (1874-1876 Japan). I mention it here because it also relates to research.

M/m sex was outlawed by the Western powers in Japan around the time my novel takes place, but it was an important part of my story--the hero, Lord Shintaro, has a physical and emotional relationship with his squire, Akira; he's also a rogue samurai, so he makes his own rules; thereby, I felt comfortable with "bending" the historical timeline just a bit to make the story work.

However, a lord samurai would never allow a squire to take him anally as his sex partner; that rule I would never break.

In conclusion, re: research, I think it's important to know the rules before you can break the rules. Or at least bend them.

Savannah Stuart said...

I could never write a historical either, Cara. I enjoy reading them but the research would take all the fun out of it for me. Plus, for the most part, women before a certain time period, unless they were aristocratic, and usually even then, didn't have many rights. I think that bit of realism would be too prevalent in my head to ever actually write one.

Savannah Stuart said...

Very good point, Jina! Know them before you break them :) I think that can apply to a lot of stuff re: writing.

KC Burn said...

One book I read - by the time the hero was thirty he'd not only spent several years as the leader of a Navy SEAL team, but he'd also enjoyed a previous career as a professional football player. Maybe it's possible, but I never read another book by that author. Even if a guy could manage all that, I'd hate him anyway for being an insufferable overachiever.

With books, it's a matter of how many errors. I have a certain threshold, after which I just throw up my hands and stop reading. For tv shows and the like, I usually accept right away that they won't be particularly realistic, which means I don't get upset when they're, you know, not realistic.

Savannah Stuart said...

KC - I'd have to be sold pretty hard on that time line. It doesn't seem feasible unless he was a pro football player for like a year, but then I would assume he'd have had to be picked up from college so... yeah, not seeing it. (and you're right, no one likes a showoff, lol)

Debra Glass said...

I write historicals and enjoy doing the historical research to try to make the clothing, events, dialogue, etc. as close as possible to the real deal. But there are places where it's okay to stray. The Tudors, for example, sticks very close to the history but the dialogue, while flavored with terms of the day, is modern enough for today's viewer to understand easily. Those who are sticklers will always have something to bellyache about though.

Nice post!

Savannah Stuart said...

Very true, Debra. Everyone has different 'hot' buttons. I LOVE your erotic historicals and I would never know if any of it was inaccurate anyway :)

Daisy Dexter Dobbs said...

I'm a diehard research junkie, Savannah. Probably to the point of ridiculousness. :-0 I probably spend as much researching as I do writing, and usually end up with files of info that I don't even use in the novel--but it comes in handy for future books. Samantha and her Genie featured an ancient Sumerian as the genie. Parts of the book were set in ancient Sumer and I seriously drove myself crazy making sure each historical fact was accurate. It was murder…sheer hell. But, in the end (after I recovered from my breakdown LOL), I was very proud of my efforts.

On the other hand, I write a lot of humor and tend to bend reality to suit my needs if it will make the comedic scene more amusing or the characters more endearing. The strategy seems to have worked so far.

I normally write contemporary fiction because, like Cara, I'm terrified of getting facts wrong and then have them pointed out by readers & reviewers (horrors!). My last series was set in an antediluvian period (which is a fancy way of saying "before recorded history") so I got away with murder bending & twisting reality to my heart's content. :D

Savannah Stuart said...

Thanks for stopping by, Daisy! In cases like that (before recorded history) I don't mind bending reality at all. That's why I love Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunter books. She makes up a lot of stuff but makes it clear that her history on ancient Greece, etc. is different than recorded history. I can pretty much forgive anything in the paranormal genre, I guess my hot button is when it deals with contemporary government agencies and the mistakes could have been avoided by a teeny amount of research. Some bending is unavoidable and I've certainly done it but asking a hostage to go back into a hostage situation is just ridiculous, lol.

I bet all your research on Sumer is fascinating! Hopefully you'll get to use it again :)

Ashlyn Chase said...

Great question, Savannah.

I go nuts when CPR is performed incorrectly on TV...which is almost always! My husband will tell you I actually yell at the screen. Usually it's "Oxygenate before you circulate, dummy!" You'll see them pounding on the person's chest without giving rescue breaths first. Once I saw them say, there's a faint pulse and then begin CPR! Of course I yelled, "Way to kill someone a--hole!"

LOL. Former nurses should never watch poorly written medical shows or CPR scenes. I've learned to just walk away and get a snack. Or better yet, run!


Cara Bristol said...

I find that I'm more of a stickler for accuracy on TV than I am with books, athough I think book authors generally get things right more often than do screenwriters. I sometimes yell at the TV screen, too. My husband reads a lot of action-oriented novels. He will generally allow 2 (possibly 3 if he's really feeling generous) technical mistakes before he tosses the book aside in disgust. Woe be the author that gets the bullet caliber wrong!

Savannah Stuart said...

Dang, Ash! Now I'm totally going to pay attention to that one. I wouldn't have noticed before but it's probably going to go on 'my list' now, lol!

Cara, my husband was a Marine so I feel ya on the caliber thing. If it has to do with weapons, the military, uniforms, aircraft etc. he pays careful attention. I'm glad I'm not the only one who yells at the television :)

Dalton Diaz said...

Major pet peeve - medical shows where they either don't don gloves, or they continue to wear the gloves after treating and leave the room, or sign paperwork, etc.
Or how about shows like CSI, where the "stars" gather all of the evidence, do all of the testing, etc., from ballistics to the autopsy itself!!