Monday, August 17, 2009

Research Boo-Boos

My very first Sunday School teaching assignment was a group of kids, ages five and six. I watched some of them grow up, but others left the church for one reason or another.

I didn't see them for many years. They remained a snapshot, frozen in time. Years later, I met several of them at a church anniversary celebration. I say, "met," because I didn't recognize them. The kids grew up! Fancy that. They were no longer the adorable five-year-olds I remembered, but grown men and women.

Recently, my former boss told us about his trip to Washington, D.C. Procedures for White House Tours have changed drastically since I visited years ago. Although I didn't go on that particular tour, people just went there and waited on line. Now, you have to contact your Congressional representative, go through a security check, and hope you get one of the coveted spots on a tour.

My book includes a tour of the White House. Unfortunately, I relied on my very old memory concerning the procedure...a snapshot, frozen in time. After hearing this story, quite a few paragraphs required changes.

Yup, this is one time when you don't take it for granted your memory will work in today's world or in the futuristic one you're inventing. Five-year-olds grow up, and rules change.

Have you ever written something based on an old memory, and then discovered it was no longer accurate? I'd love to hear about it.

24 comments:

Donna M. Kohlstrom said...

I wrote a memoir and then had some of the family tell me their version of it only to find out that everyone had seen the moment from a different point of view. I even wondered if I'd been there after listening to their story of how the event had taken place! LOL! I decided it was best to take everyone's facts and POV and rewrite a more accurate memoir.

Jessica said...

Not on a memory but on an assumption. *cringe* I had to change several plot threads, as well as scenes, when I realized what I wrote could never happen.

Great reminder for us to do our research Susan!

Jody Hedlund said...

Since I write historicals, everything is old and outdated! Even though I've tried to be accurate, I'm sure a wrong detail or two slips through. I just hope the story will trump those few things and that people will be able to overlook any mistakes!

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Jess -

This brings another good point to mind. It's a lot easier to get things right the first time than to fix mistakes.

Carpenters always say, "measure twice and cut once." That might be an appropriate maxim for writers.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Jody -

I admire anyone who does historicals. The amount of research required staggers the imagination.

Perhaps with historicals, the details are so old that not many people would pick up on a mistake. :)

Blessings,
Susan

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Donna -

I haven't written a memoir, but have sat around a table and heard several versions of the same story. LOL!

I'm going to date myself here, but I remember a duet sung by Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold called, "I Remember It Well." Too funny, and so typical of how we remember events.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Karen Lange said...

I cannot recall having written something from memory like that (but I may have forgotten:) but I have had to update older articles. I sometimes will look to resubmit material and I find it is in need of updating. That pays 'writer overtime', doesn't it? If only such a thing existed! :) Blessings!

Nancy said...

I love the story. I don't recall an exsct time that happened, but it is a definite possibility.

Becky Lange said...

I have to admit that research is not one of my favorite things to do! I usually take the lazy route and write flash fiction based on my own experiences but not quite "fact" -- that way no one can question my telling of the story :-). I love poetry too, partly for that same reason! I really do need to practice and hone my research skills; I'd hate to be caught in the middle of a story and find that some detail I was counting on for the plot is not accurate! Thanks for the reminder!

Sharon Ball said...

I've written something based on what I'd heard and it turned out to be completely false. After that experience I learned that I absolutely have to check my details to make sure they're as accurate as possbible.

Diane said...

Maybe the easier thing to do would have been to date your book to 2000before all the craziness took place. ;O)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Nancy -

Thanks. It's amazing how a simple conversation can alert you to a potential research disaster. My boss saved me a ton of embarrassment.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Becky -

Thanks for commenting!

If you haven't already read my four-part interview with Jane Fitzpatrick, you might find some helpful research tips there. :)

Blessings,
Susan

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Sharon -

It's always wise to double-check facts. Isn't it nice that we can learn from each other instead of through trial and error?

Blessings,
Susan :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Diane -

LOL! The editors want me to forsake futuristic suspense and move things to the present day. I don't think I'm quite ready to turn my book into a historical.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Karen -

Thanks for bringing up the issue of reprints. Updating information before hitting that "send" button is essential.

Overtime for writers...I like the concept. :)

Blessings,
Susan

quietspirit said...

Susan:
A writing group friend was going to have one of her characters have a nurse in a hospital witness the signing of a legal document. I knew from personal experience that the employees of a hospital can't do that. She thanked me.

MaryAnn Diorio, Ph.D. said...

Great post, Susan! I write historical fiction and can vouch for the amount of research necessary. And believe me, readers will find mistakes if we make them. Readers of historical fiction are usually very fluent in the era in which they read, so they can often spot a mistake a mile away. :)

You're right. We need to do our research. :)

Blessings,
MaryAnn

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Quiet Spirit -

Thanks for a great example. Many hospitals have notaries available, who usually bring a witness with them. They also have social workers, who assist patients and families.

There are so many areas where we can slip up on research. I've seen a lot of folks get expert help on the ACFW loop. It's a good resource.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi MaryAnn -

Thanks for commenting. Hmm, I guess readers of historical fiction are like sports fans, who know the stats of all their favorite players. :)

Blessings,
Susan

Terri Tiffany said...

I hadn't thought about things changing like that--hmmm-- but like Donna, I remembered something I wrote differently than the other people involved did.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Terri -

The incident with my manuscript provided quite a lesson. I'm not likely to forget it. :)

Blessings,
Susan

Leslie said...

I worked just 2 blocks from the White House when the Gulf War broke out. I seem to remember tours being discontinued for a while. I don't know if it was after that or after 9/11 that they changed the policy regarding the tours.

Sometimes when I read fiction books, I'm awed by how much research the author probably had to do.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Leslie -

Oh my, you were in D.C. during 9/11? Scary.

Yes, those who write historicals have their work cut out for them. The research alone must take forever.

Blessings,
Susan :)