Thursday, March 1, 2012

Fact Checking Fiction

I spend most of my day fact checking. That's what you do when you write editorial content for a living. You look at statistics and social patterns and legislation to see how it all fits together to support what you're saying. Like today, I researched Idaho labor statistics and regulations on flexible spending accounts and media outlets in the Seattle area, all for different assignments. Media writing is non-fiction after all, and if you're facts aren't correct, you might as well be writing fiction.


Not really.

In my Batman Life (what I do outside of normal working hours), I'm working on a contemporary novel loosely based on my home-town high school. You'd think I'd never have to do any research for it. But I've spent hours researching the Russian Revolution, vintage band t-shirts, school library funding and anatomy—and that was just in the past 24 hours.

This week for my writers' group, I've researched a verity of topics such as British parliamentary procedure, ukulele music and Scottish slang. For a recent beta reading, I refreshed my knowledge of maritime history, music theory and disease treatment. And that doesn't even touch on the wear and tear my dictionary has been through to learn word origin and alternate definitions. Good thing I know my way around internet search engines, indexes and glossaries, and library databases.

The point is, a lot of facts go into fiction. People often ask me how I can "sit down and write a story," and the truth is, I can't. Without a background of research classes, essay writing, interview experience and a backlog of useless facts, my fiction wouldn't be readable, it would never even be more than an idea. In fact, I probably would never have story ideas as everything is based on a fact I read or saw or experienced.

So you want to be a writer? Make sure you get your facts right.


  1. Kathryn, such a great post! And as the recent person who made you look up maritime history, music theory, and diseases (and don't forget late 19th century ladies' undergarments), I can say you are AWESOME at research. That is one of the best qualities in a good writer and you got it, lady.

    1. Megan, I love doing research, so any time you need a fact checker, you know where to find me. What I didn't mention in this post is that facts also don't really matter without a good writing to make them interesting. And lady, you've got that talent in spades.