Sunday, June 1, 2014

Oops! Always Fact-Check Your Information

Let's take some time to talk about research.

Whether you're writing fiction or non-fiction, it's important to know what you're talking about.
Even if you're making up an entirely new creature, some research is required to make sure that creature could live on the planet, eat what they eat, and do what they do. You have to explain yourself to readers and be able to back up your reasoning because although YOU may not notice that something changed from chapter 4 to chapter 13, a reader will.

So, what's your story?

I recently went through an absolute research nightmare. I was given a press release from the state auditor's office by a gentleman who told me to look into it and create a story. He told me all the details about the people involved. I was interested in the story and went back to work and told my editor about it all.

The people involved in the story had been audited and caught by the state auditor for allegedly misusing grant funds for a school district. I attempted to contact the state auditor's office and had trouble—we played phone tag, which happens a lot in the writing business and isn't anyone's fault. I also tried to contact the school, phone tag. It was as if the planets aligned, so I had to run this press release.

My editor said go ahead and run it, so I did. Then all heck broke loose, y'all.

People were calling in saying they were angry, I should lose my job, they were having heart palpitations, why would we print this……I'm sure you're wondering what the big deal is, right?

When the gentleman gave me the press release, he forgot to mention the fact that the release was six years old. There was no date on the release, and no date on the state auditor's site.

I had brought up old news that had ruffled feathers the first time around, and this time it was even worse.

The lesson?
Never let go of something until you know you can back it up.

I couldn't get in contact with the people I needed, so I should have waited. I should have held the story until everything was confirmed.

Many people are willing to help with your writing and answer questions. Check with these experts to make sure you have the correct information.

Example: I was having trouble describing the mindset of a Navy SEAL so I made a quick phone call to a local recruiter. He helped me come up with a great description.

Reach out to people and ask questions. Watch movies. Read articles. Look for books on the topic. Researching for a project will never hurt. You might go down a few rabbit holes and end up taking quizzes online to see what kind of fruit you are, but, hey, that's okay!

Research, research, research.
Check the facts.
And , if nothing else, Google it.

Writing prompt:

Pick up this story where it ends. How has this person's research (or lack thereof) backfired?

I had it! I clutched the paper in my hand and stormed from my desk, down the long overly decorated great hall and towards the boardroom. I was so getting him this time, and the information in my hands was the key.


Courtney Warren is a writer for her local newspaper, as well as a graduate student at Hollins University where she is pursuing a degree in Children’s Literature. She has a bachelor’s degree from Delta State University, the home of the Fighting Okra (which she is incredibly proud of). She loves to read just about anything placed on the shelves but has a special place in her heart for the Harry Potter series.

When she is not writing about herself in third person, she loves to write stories about middle schoolers with spunky attitudes who intend to save the world, as well as drinking Earl Grey tea from a very prissy teacup.

Check out her blog, Tea, the Spirit, & a Pen.