Monday, August 9, 2010

Dog's Can't Look Up

The following appeared in the most recent issue of Words With JAM, was written hastily, and probably contains an element of Beelzebub's Legal Representative*


 [ri-surch, ree-surch]

diligent and systematic inquiry or investigation into a subject in order to discover or revise facts, theories, applications, etc.

Having been asked to do an article on ‘research’ I did what all self-respecting writers do these days and plugged the word into an online dictionary, hence the above. There were a few other definitions but I couldn’t be bothered cutting and pasting them. They were verbs or something.

I’ve managed to write two novels and about a dozen short stories without doing any research whatsoever. I’ve had the advantage of only ever writing about Glaswegian idiots though so much of the required knowledge was already built in. Now and then I’ve needed to check the odd bit of geography but Google maps has always sorted that out easily enough.
To be honest, the first thought to enter my brain when the ED asked me to write this article about research was - shit, she’s not done her research.
Writing is my hobby, the idea that it might involve actual effort and work beyond making stuff up and typing it is anathema to me. Example - I have only a vague idea what ‘anathema’ means, but can’t be arsed looking it up so it’ll have to do.
My philosophy on fiction is simple - it’s fiction, so make shit up. It’s all lies anyway, who gives a crap about where the lies stop and truth comes in? If it sounds reasonable, it is reasonable.
I don’t write literary fiction, so I don’t need to worry about being literal. I’m not a writer of historical fiction, so historical fact means nothing to me. I don’t do thrillers, so police procedure etc is meaningless. I can’t write Sci-Fi, so science can get to fuck.
I’m not discounting the time and effort many writers put into making sure they get every last factual detail right. Authenticity is important when endeavouring to recreate, or create from scratch, a world in which you hope the reader will become immersed and enmeshed. All and more of the above mentioned genres (and yes, literary fiction is just another genre) demand this, to one degree or another.
But, you know. Relax.
Yes, a particularly pertinent bit of research can, sometimes, give huge insight to either character or plot and if that’s the case go for it - explain exactly how that leather coin pouch could only have been made by a mountain-dwelling Argentinean with Oedipal issues.
If it’s not important though, it’s enough that you know it, don’t burden the rest of us with your studies. We don’t care.
Story matters; characters matter; humanity matters; entertainment matters (literary fiction gets a pass on that one); emotions matter. That’s where the truth needs to be. And that’s the stuff you can’t find on Wikipedia.
The Devil is in the details. Or God is in the details. Which is it, I can’t remember? Either way I’m not religious.
The one thing not to do, however, is get it wrong. If you’re making something up, make bloody sure you’re in ‘make-shit-up’ territory. And, whatever you do, don’t make shit up about anyone who’s real and still alive.
As an example (purely fictional and plucked entirely from the air with no basis in anything that’s ever actually happened, honest) don’t say that your main character’s sister goes on a bit sometimes and can be annoying as fuck when she has a wine or two. Or, you know, that Bono is a Nazi. Like Jesus was. Silly stuff like that.
I assume, of course, that you won’t take my word for any of this and do your own research before coming to a decision.
Don’t trust me for a minute, I just make shit up.

* I'm not 100% sure what that means and couldn't be bothered checking.