Guest Blog: Fact and Fiction–Pulling it Together

Today, I have another writing friend here to give everyone a new perspective on research. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the post. Please welcome Morgan Smith to the blog!


Fact and Fiction – Pulling it Together
By Morgan Smith

I have said from the very start of my writing career that I don’t do “writing advice.”

That was kind of a lie, because now I’m going to tell you about the terrible, dangerous nexus between all those carefully garnered facts and writing fiction.

Beware, beware: because the days/weeks/months you’ve spent organizing all those incredible details into easily-accessible files can trip you up.

It’s called the info-dump for a reason: it will appear like giant walls of text: blow-by-blow summaries of exactly how the monetary system in your world/14th century France works; recipe-by-recipe descriptions of forty-seven different kinds of food served at a medieval banquet; long political diatribes detailing the exact relationship of one peerage to another in a semi-feudal society.

You must resist. You must. Plenty of authors don’t, and while there are readers who like a fictional story to read like a high school text book–I’m not saying there aren’t–the vast majority of readers are looking for something that takes them out of themselves, without the destination being a classroom. Most readers are, in the end, looking to escape, and nowhere is this more true than in fantasy fiction.

You, as the writer definitely need to know and care about every bit of this. You need to know your world inside and out. It’s really the only reliable way to make sure your world holds together as tightly as the Great Wall of China.

But the hook in this enormous net of factoid fish is that your readers really do not care.

They don’t need to know those details and frankly, they don’t want to. There is nothing that will stop a reader faster than stepping outside the story to deliver a History 101 lecture on currency exchange in the fictional 1200’s.

 But then, why bother doing all that work?

 And this is where the authorial magic trick occurs.

When you know your stuff, it shows. You only need the most minimal of details to make your reader feel that they are in good hands–because for some reason, when you really, really know your apples, you don’t need to deliver all those details.

It all somehow magically bleeds through in the way the prose gets out. The reader senses that there is authority there without the writer having to prove it by listing all the minutiae out. They can feel the reality, BECAUSE you aren’t spending 20,000 words showing them the skeleton underneath the flesh.

And they will rave about your world-building, even though you have only twitched the curtain aside for a microsecond, and given them the merest glimpse of the mechanics. They’ll feel it, and they’ll know it, and they will sink deeper into the story, never daring to let go.

And that’s a reader worth having.


Morgan Smith is a former goatherd, a textiles geek, and occasionally an archaeologist. She is also the author of several fantasy novels including “The Shades of Winter”, “Casting in Stone”, and “A Spell in the Country”, a romantic fantasy called “The Mourning Rose”, and a memoir about growing up hippie in the 60s. Her life is held together by caffeine, cigarettes, and cheap granola bars, and she will drop everything to go anywhere, on the flimsiest of pretexts.

Social Media:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/morgansmithauthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/morganauthor1

Blog: https://morgansmithauthor.wordpress.com

Website: https://theaverrainecycle.wordpress.com/2017/06/18/welcome-to-averraine/

Published:

Casting in Stone Book 1 of The Averraine Cycle

They said ill winds blew at her back. They said she was cursed: a hex, and a jinx. And it was true: everywhere she went, no matter what she did, misfortune seemed to follow in her wake. But that, of course, wasn’t the worst of it.

A Spell in the Country Book 2 of The Averraine Cycle

What if you weren’t “The Chosen One” but still had to try to save the world?
https://www.amazon.com/Spell-Country-Book-Averraine-Cycle-ebook-dp-B07VJB8XFY

The Shades of Winter A Novel of Averraine

An aging band of sea raiders set out on one last voyage of revenge, and get a whole lot more than they bargained for.

The Mourning Rose

Manners meet magic in this tale where curses mix with curtseys, and Charm takes on a whole new dimension. 

Flashbacks (an unreliable memoir of the ‘60s)

A collection of memories about growing up hippie in Toronto, during one of the most interesting periods of the 20th century. Not to mention the sex, drugs and rock and roll…

Dogs Can’t Meow: Why Even Fantasy Writers Need Research

As an editor, a writer, and a vocal member of the writing community, I hear a lot of strange rules that people make up about writing. As a matter of fact, our next CraftQuest discussion will be exactly about that (subscribe to our channel for updates)! One of my absolute favorite ones is this: If you’re writing fantasy, you don’t need to research. You’re writing about things that don’t exist in reality–why would you need to search for clues within reality? No. Just no. As a writer, you NEED to research. It’s a fundamental part of your work. And it doesn’t matter what you’re writing.

In real life, i.e. not your imaginary book land, there will always be things you don’t know. I know that the infamous “they” tell you to write what you know, but I’ve gotta tell you, if I wrote only what I know into every manuscript I work on, my work would be painfully boring. I’ve written about powered individuals who fight monsters. I’ve written about a girl who is best friends with Aphrodite. I’ve written about spiking your brother-in-law’s martini with coolant. I haven’t done a single one of these things, no matter how sorely tempted I’ve been. What have I done? I’ve been terrified for my life and I’ve been in chaotic situations. I’ve been friends with someone who wanted more for me, and I’ve been friends with someone who thought I should be something I was not. I’ve watched someone abuse someone I loved and wished for a way to free them from the neverending spiral of abuse.

So, how do you write about the things you do not know? You have to do research. You have to learn new things, understand different lifestyles, different histories. You have to dig deep. But what about fantasy and science fiction? You don’t have to do research for those, do you? I mean, they aren’t even real! Why would you need to research something when it’s all made up in your imagination?

Because the key to fiction is relatability. We enjoy books because we relate to their characters or their worlds on some intrinsic level. They reflect something about our world. Which means they have to, at least somewhat, feel similar to our world. On a planet where the physics are different? You have to justify that change. Create a world where someone is immortal? Why? How does their body work that is different from how ours do? You can’t just randomly have someone buried alive for a week and have them survive. You have to explain that they don’t need a whole helluva lot of food, water, and oxygen to survive. You can’t just have a dragon without wings fly through the sky. How does he stay up? Is some kind of magic at play? Without that, they wouldn’t be aerodynamic enough to swoop through the sky.

If your character rides a horse-like creature, you have to understand how to describe riding a horse and relate it back, because when we read, we base the adventures on our own somewhat similar experience. Your job, as a writer, is to come as close to capturing a relatable experience while still balancing that with the new and fantastical ways of the world you’ve created in a consistent fashion.

So how do you make sure your world feels relatable to your readers, even if you play with changing some of the rules? You take what you don’t already know and you…research it.

Resolving to Write

This weekend on CraftQuest’s monthly video, we discussed all the best tools and changes you can make to invest in your writing life in 2019. We call it our writing resolution. You can find our archived livestream below.

I had a lot to say about this topic. I couldn’t seem to shut up. 😉

40 Reasons Why I Write

pexels-photo-206487

Relatively recently, Bryan Hutchinson issued a challenge on his blog, Positive Writer – list 40 reasons why you write. You can see his answers here. When it came about, I was in the throws of Camp NaNoWriMo. As that is now complete, and I’m taking a small break from the novel so I can attack it again in July’s edition of Nano, I needed this challenge. It’s been difficult to stay motivated, because the hits just keep coming in both my personal and professional life. So, I’m going to take some time to remind myself why I write. I hope you find my answers either interesting or inspirational. Also, I am so incredibly late to this challenge.

  1. Writing keeps my brain busy. With my ADHD, my brain is always spinning anyway, so this gives it something to work on in the background.
  2. Stories haunt me, and I have to get them out.
  3. I have had a lot of trauma and strange events in my life, and I need an outlet.
  4. Sometimes, I like to live vicariously through my characters.
  5. Sometimes, I like to bury myself in my characters so I can forget life.
  6. My son looks up to me for creating whole stories all by myself, and there’s no beating that.
  7. Writing is a strong bond I share with my husband, as he is also an author.
  8. Writing is a strong bond I share with my sister-in-law. She is also an author.
  9. Writing has helped me make amazing friendships, some that are sure to be lifelong.
  10. I like how writing makes me feel, like I am weaving worlds from my imagination.
  11. The sense of accomplishment I feel when I finally get something right is amazing.
  12. Rewriting has taught me all about perseverance. Frustration, but perseverance.
  13. I like to read things I love over and over again, so this was probably a fitting career choice.
  14. I love to paint with words.
  15. I love to listen to music, and music always inspires me to paint with my words.
  16. Clever dialogue is all around me. What would I do if I didn’t jot some of it down and use it for my own benefit?
  17. My best friend has yoga. I have writing.
  18. The creative people on my journey with me are the best people.
  19. My characters tend to be stronger than I am. Or at least, than I was. These days, I seem to be taking a page from my own book. Writing has encouraged me to be stronger.
  20. I’ve had a lot of people tell me I won’t get anywhere in this business, or something is wrong with the core of a particular story, etc. I intend to prove them very wrong.
  21. When my anxiety disorder, my depression, my PTSD rears up, writing helps me cope.
  22. Because, as a woman, and as a woman with physical and mental health issues, my voice and my individual experiences deserve to be heard.
  23. I love reading so much, and I know how it feels to really connect with a character. I would love to be able to provide that for someone else.
  24. I’ve always loved playing with voice and word choice, seeing how different an outcome I can create just by finding a more exact bit of syntax.
  25. Writing often helps me to put feelings I’m dealing with into words, to tell truths through my characters that I can’t articulate properly in reality.
  26. I honestly don’t know what I would do with all the spare time I’d get if I didn’t write or plan to write.
  27. When I’m writing I can temporarily put off other, more important chores. But not the most important ones, of course. 😉
  28. I still believe in magic, and sometimes, writing feels like magic. Like when something inexplicably comes together, and it feels like destiny, that feels like magic. That is the rare moment where I become a believer.
  29. How else can I justify talking to the people who live in my brain?
  30. I’m stubborn and I’ve said I’m going to do it, so damn it, I’m going to do it.
  31. Some of the most fascinating people I’ve ever met write, so I hope some of that rubs off on me.
  32. Sometimes, I’m not all that adventurous, so I need an excuse to try new and interesting things. Research gives me that excuse.
  33. I was already a fact hoarder. This gives me a reason to hoard facts.
  34. I hate waste, and I feel like I have a lot of knowledge and random experiences that just kind of sit around in my brain and go to waste. I want to give them some use. Like my two years working at an ice cream shop. I’m using that in my latest book.
  35. There are tons of stories that I want to read, that I don’t find out there. I’ve always been a bit of a control freak. They say, if you want something done, do it yourself, right?
  36. I’m getting to a point where rejections mean almost nothing to me. I’m numb to rejection.
  37. Unless, they come with constructive criticism, at which point I am disappointed, but I have learned to love constructive criticism and view it as encouragement and help, rather than an insult. I think writing has helped to improve my personality in that way.
  38. I have also become able to tell the difference between constructive knowledgeable criticism and insults, being led astray, and jealous attacks designed to keep a person below them. That lesson has helped me in all areas of my life.
  39. I have a side gig as an editor, and I’ve always believed that, if you are going to manage people, you should be willing to get your hands dirty. If I won’t get my hands dirty with words, why should I tell other people to do so?
  40. I love to geek out. It’s my life’s mission to make other people geek out as much as I do.

So, there are my 40 reasons! Do you need to remind yourself why you love something? Share your reasons in the comments, and thank you for being one of the people I’ve encountered on this journey, the people I write for. Thank you for being one of my reasons. ❤