Friday, August 13, 2010

Getting Your Facts Straight by Laurie Alice Eakes

Although I don’t know everything, of course, I’ve gotten a bit of a reputation for being a know-it-all when it comes to research. The truth is, I don’t know that much; I simply learned in studying history in grad school, how to find the answers.

The Internet seems to make this easy. Unfortunately, a great deal of false information lurks on the billions of pages available to us. Here are a handful of tips for getting your facts straight.

When possible, go to the original source. If you want to know about police procedure, find a few policemen to talk to. Most police departments have a public relations office that will help with this.

When original sources like the professionals aren’t available—a problem I have in writing historical fiction—get a minimum of three sources. If you can get ahold of diaries or newspapers from the time and place about which you’re writing, you’ve struck gold. In this, I recommend the advanced search options under Google Books.

Careful thinking that, because you’re writing about your own city, that you know everything already. One of my favorite examples is a mystery in which a blind character in California said he and his wife picked out his guide dog. Well, actually, in California, this isn’t possible. All guide dogs have to be trained by a licensed instructor and one can’t just pick one out. The author lived in the city where many guide dogs are around, so she thought she knew how the system worked.

To make a reader truly feel involved in the story, getting details in the setting right helps. For this, you need to know more than who would collect the body in Colorado. You need to find out what trees, flowers, grasses are around. What is the weather like in October? Does the air smell like wood smoke or pine trees? Some resources for this, in the event you don’t know people from the region, are Facebook pages dedicated to an area, and Yahoo Groups dedicated to an area. A woman I know wrote about Ireland using resources like this, and even Irish people thought she’d been there.

When writing, we need to tell a good story and part of that telling is getting even the tiniest facts right.

Award-winning author Laurie Alice Eakes does not remember a time when books did not play a part in her life; thus, no one was surprised when she decided to be a writer. Her first hardcover was an October, 2006 Regency historical from Avalon Books and won the National Readers Choice Award for Best Regency, as well as being a finalist for Best First Book. She is also a finalist for the ACFW Carol award in the short historical category (winners to be announced in September). After selling her first book in the inspirational market, she also wrote articles and essays for Christian publications. A brief hiatus in publishing climaxed with her selling thirteen books in thirteen months, to publishers such as Barbour, Avalon, and Baker/Revell.

She is an active member of RWA and ACFW, and started the Avalon Authors group blog. A graduate of the Seton Hill University Master of Arts Degree in Writing Popular Fiction, And a Bachelor of Arts graduate in English and French from Asbury College, she is an experienced speaker, and has made presentations at local and national RWA conferences, as well as local universities and libraries.

Until recently, she lived in Northern Virginia, then her husband’s law career took them and their dogs and cats, to southern Texas, where she writes full-time and enjoys the beach whenever possible.

You can find her web site at:


Rebecca J Vickery said...

Hi Laurie and Anne,
Very good tip. Research is time consuming, but I agree it is super important. Readers and fans will call you on facts in a minute when we get them wrong. Very embarrassing and too late to fix once the book is out.

Gail Pallotta said...

Hi Laurie,
I enjoyed reading your research tips. Congratulations on your writing accomplishmnets. It's a small world, one of my dear friends has a son who graduated from Asbury.

Miss Mae said...

Absolutely correct in getting the facts straight, and especially when writing historicals too.

Very important article. Thanks for contributing. :)