Thursday, July 3, 2008

We don't need no stinking research...

I like to say that I write paranormal because there's no research involved. You get to just make stuff up, which is way less work. Of course that's not one hundred percent true. I find myself on-line or digging into my LARGE collection of research books, looking up the oddest things. Or asking friends via e-mail..."I need some French swear words. What would a Quebecois man say when he was shot--oh and he's not human so he knows it won't kill him but it really hurts." I can see this friend who, yes, used to live in Montreal and is now in Dallas, shaking her head from here. My September story involves a siren...and a 300 year old Irish sorcerer. So that meant looking up obscure Greek mythology and Gaelic phrases. Did you know that the sirens were the daughters of Achelous the river god and one of the muses? Neither did I. Then I thought, "You know, three hundred years ago in Ireland--he probably isn't circumcised." And other than brief flashes in movies I've never see one that wasn't. So off I went to Wikipedia for pictures... Accuracy isn't difficult at all, but it CAN be time consuming.

Of course there are shortcuts. Having a friend who knows a subject is one of them. I've had people ask me great questions, too. Like, "Do wolves mate for life?" (yes) and "Do baby rhinos have horns?" (not really) We all have resources like this. Use them. On the other hand, if you're just out to entertain and you deliberately and openly play fast and loose with reality--then go for it. I can can suspend disbelif and be entertained as long as I know that's what I'm supposed to do.

Two sub genres where accuracy is both more difficult to obtain and of paramount importance are historical fiction and suspense. I'm going to talk about movies, because frankly those come to mind at the moment, and I think they're more universally known. In a comment on Regina's blog the other day, I mentioned some scientific flaws in Jurassic Park that totally ruined the mood for me. There were several. Frog DNA? Please! Crocodile maybe--at least that's a reptile. Iguana I could have accepted. But frog? Nuh-uh. So forget that who-o-o-ole movie. Whereas Bambi isn't supposed to be realistic, so I can overlook the fact that Flower would have eaten Thumper in a heartbeat. Skunks are carnivores!

DaVinci Code--errors are pissy and annoying. The James Bond movies on the other hand? Nah. I don't even look for errors there. I know they're silly and just for my amusement, so that's how I take them. Historicals same way. Take an "epic" like Braveheart or Elizabeth, and I'm going to pick, pick, pick if I see any holes--or even airplane contrails in the sky overhead (a popular one, by the way). Now A Knight's Tale? Openly campy and fun. Makes no pretense at accuracy. So I can just sit back and laugh my ass off. maybe I'm just weird, but hey. It's how my strange little mind works.

So do my books contain factual errors? Probably. I'm writing for fun and there are some things I probably think I know and forget to look up. I do, freqently, make up fictional towns so I don't have to worry about messing with real geography. But once I create something, I do try to be consistent. And while I play fast and loose with the mythologies of my fairy-tale creatures, I try to give explanations, and once I make them up, I try to be consistent.

On the other hand I'm not the richest woman in England (yep--a writer has surpassed Queen Elizabeth!) so maybe by worrying about consistency, I'm really going about it all wrong...


  1. Hey, Cindy--If your 300-year-old Irish sorcerer had Christian parents, he may well have been circumcised.

    And I totally agree with you on the differences between movies meant to be "real" and those meant to be pure fun. The whole point of A Knight's Tale was to put modern stuff into a medieval environment. Ditto Bond flicks.

    I'm "reading" (listening to, actually) a book right now where a character was described as darning an apron. Now, I don't know how to darn, but I do know that it's a way to fix knitted things. Who ever knitted an apron? Threw me right out of the book. I'm sure the author was using the word "darn" to mean "mend." But someone should have caught that--an editor or copyeditor, at least. That's part of their job!

    Grumble, grumble [wanders off muttering about what the publishing industry is coming to]

  2. Nope. Never heard of anyone knitting an apron either. Noone was THINKING about this, I guess. Can sure ruin the moon though.

    Well, I have a great expert easily accessible if I ever need "zoo type" information on reptiles and birds and such. Thank GOD!! Reasearch IS a major drag but necessary. I'm with you, Cindy. If something is meant to be historically accurate the details are important. If it's pure fantasy, I can pretty much blow it off and sit back and enjoy.

  3. Oops. Sorry about all these typos. My fingers aren't working today!!!! ACK.

  4. Heh. Looooove campy movies and books. But I'm with the rest of you, if it's supposed to be serious, then the research better be serious too! Excellent blog, babe! And thanks for the baby rhino!

  5. Regina--don't apologize for the typos; you were, of course, doing it on purpose (in keeping with the theme) to see if any of us caught them.

    Kelly, if you happen to stop by: I wrote back to you, but since your e-mail to me ended up in my spam folder, mine to you might have done the same. I have slapped Yahoo! upside the head for its error.

  6. Okay; you've got me curious. What was wrong in Da Vinci code? I've not seen the movie; only read the book. Fill me in, please...

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  8. Great post, Cindy. I enjoy "fun" movies for the sake of fun as well. It's only when they present themselves as serious, that I hold them to a higher standard.

  9. I think Google is great for research these days! :)

    Fantasy can easily suspend disbelief, but a historical novel won't I guess.

    We always have a lot of commotion over such an issue in India!


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