About Writers, Research


OKAY, let’s get the (explanatory) blonde joke out of the way.
“This blonde girl asked me what ‘IDK’ stood for. I said I don’t know. She said, ‘OMG, no one seems to.'”

She was, of course, right about a lot of things. If there were a Medieval map of the Internet, vast areas would be marked “IDK” for voids and “Here There Be Dragons” for misinformation. We don’t know a lot of things.

But don’t blame the Internet. History is riddled with gaps and untruths, eye witnesses get it wrong and experts grind their own axes. We never really knew all the facts. The problem is that now the Internet is widely accepted as the fact-checker. The Encyclopedia Britannica has been replaced by Wikis.

Not that this matters so much to creative writers. We seek truth, not facts. Information changes but truth only varies within the constancies of human behavior. The great themes of literature haven’t changed since Enheduanna wrote about lovers among the reeds along the Euphrates River thousands of years ago. Only the settings change, like the scene in time travel movies where the traveler remains fixed against a background of civilizations changing, falling and rising. Aren’t unchanging human truths what really matter?

We need facts to anchor our fiction. Do our “facts” have to agree with what readers find on the Internet?

I don’t know. I’m a writer. I make stuff up.


8 thoughts on “IDK

  1. mimispeike says:

    “We seek truth, not facts.”

    GD, you got that right. I explain to people that I try to write true lies, the truest of lies. For a writer, reality is a springboard to more than meets the eye.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. mimispeike says:

    Lies are swell. I love lies. But let your lies have some kind of anchorage in the human heart. Even if you go with the (tiresome!) Bad Seed approach, you may find in you some of the complexity of one you may have heard of: William Shakespeare.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Perry Palin says:

    I make up my own facts when writing a story. The thing is, I try to weave the facts into the story in a way that will seem reasonable. If the reader is suspicious enough about my facts that he/she has to run to the Internet to check them, i have failed to engage the reader. The facts in a story might be that it rains in August, or snows in January. If I write that it snows in August, the reader won’t buy it (in the Northern Hemisphere, below about 10,000 feet at least) and I’ve lost the reader.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Perry Palin says:

    One of my best lies, and I used it a number of times, though by now, more than 40 years later, the statute of limitations has expired, is the “Gray Eyes Gambit.” While writing a term paper or an exam at the university, if I didn’t know what I was doing I would incorporate the color of the eyes of the long dead subject, something even the professor didn’t know. Who knew that Milton or T. S. Eliot or Nathaniel Hawthorne had gray eyes? Well, hell, I didn’t know their eye colors, but when I worked eye color into a clause in a sentence, it looked like I had done my research. We didn’t have the Internet back then of course, but the goal was to charm the professor into believing without going to whatever sources he had at hand. Did it work? I think so; I graduated with highest honors.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ha, ha, great story! Though I’m sure your honours were due to more than giving Milton grey eyes. Another trick is to make up statistics – between 1954 and 1958, British motorcycle production fell by 14%. As long as it’s plausible, it works.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. GD Deckard says:

    Interesting, isn’t it? To the reader what we write tends to be factual if they agree. I don’t know but I suspect, books that appeal world wide and across cultures focus on the human in all of us. The facts that matter are the kind that don’t change.

    As a reader, I happily suspend reality for the sake of a good story. But I’m more gullible reading other-dimension fantasy than historical fiction. Some stories need detailed facts to frame the fiction. And readers who know more than the writer may dismiss the story.

    So, how does one write a story where the facts are acceptable to widely different people with varying levels of knowledge? Here, the Internet may save us. Right or wrong, it’s the most widely accepted fact checker.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I spend hours fact-checking on Internet but don’t always find the exact point I’m looking for. Sometimes people say a certain event is implausible whereas in fact it’s entirely plausible; and they won’t always spot what I know to be implausible. Or perhaps they do but it doesn’t bother them. Your point about the genre is very true. In mystery there’s quite a range – the police procedural may require a lot of research but often readers don’t obsess over the details.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. mimispeike says:

    I don’t care if what I find on the web is true or false. Anything that sets my imagination on fire, that’s good enough for me. In my story, I try to cleave to some kind of truth, mostly in that feels right characterization.

    Liked by 1 person

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