Friday, January 28, 2011

Fact Checking

I used to write non-fiction - articles for the local papers, creative essays, stuff that required diligent fact-checking in order to make sure the information included was accurate. It's made me a bit of a stickler, which is probably a good thing.

Because what I didn't realize before delving into fiction was that it required even more research than the non-fiction I'd been writing before. And I'm talking about contemporaries, not historicals. I'd need to find out about proper police procedure in domestic violence situations. Or where runaways tend to go when they want to stay hidden. Or exactly how early a fishing charter captain has to get up in order to be on his boat on time.

I'd always thought of fiction as being "easier" because you got to make everything up. But for me, it requires just as much a grounding in reality as the non-fiction article for the paper - but more subtly. Just info-dropping facts and figures into a novel doesn't work, either.

But even the most diligent researcher trips up sometimes, or a source turns out to be unreliable. (Not related to fiction, but this happened to me over the weekend. ABC News posted an article on their website, stating that Silent House, a film I've been tracking, had just sold to Lionsgate following their Sundance premiere. I read the paragraph three times just to be sure that's what it said, before posting it on Twitter and Facebook. Turns out? The article was wrong - the reporter had mixed up information about this film with the previous movie by the director/writer team. Unfortunately, I found out too late to retract it before news of the sale spread like wildfire.)

In this instant media age, incorrect info can blossom just that quickly, making it harder to be sure what you've discovered is accurate. I try to look at multiple sources, taking a "trust but verify" approach.

Do you have trusted sources when it comes to research? Where do you go to get "just the facts"?


Meg Benjamin said...

I'm pretty much an Internet type, although I check to make sure the source seems reliable. I've had to find things like the physical effects of Tasering (bad) or what exactly iguanas eat (veggies). The one time I relied on personal experience I got into an argument. My DIL is a vegetarian who eats fish. I made my hero a vegetarian who eats fish. A vegetarian who doesn't eat fish was offended. "We don't eat anything with a face," he claimed. Which I guess means he could eat clams, but never mind.

Maia Strong said...

For Meg, if it helps, I have a fish-eating vegetarian friend; she often calls herself a pescatarian. So you're not wrong, and anyone who makes blanket staments like "We don't eat anything with a face," really needs to define their "we" a bit better. (I don't know why I'm irked on your behhalf, but there it is. Hope you don't mind.)

As for fact-checking, I try to find mulitple sources that give the same information, but that aren't all quoting the same source. So often on the internet you'll find an article stating something, and then all the other articles you find are a string of passed-down quotes all from the same source. Two independent sources are my minimum requirement for "it's true".

Kelly Jamieson said...

I LOVE Google but this a good reminder that facts need to be checked! I like Maia's rule of two indpendent sources.

Kate Davies said...

Yeah, the debacle this weekend was a pretty strong reminder that no matter how "trusted" the source is, an independent verification is a Very Good Thing. (And would have been helpful BEFORE word got back to the actor that his film had been picked up, causing unnecessary excitement and then disappointment. /facepalm)

The next day, reports came out that the film actually had sold, for even more money than had been quoted in the first report, but by then I was so gun-shy I found about ten different sources and STILL waited to say anything until it was verified by the actor himself.

Kinsey Holley said...

I try to do a combo of Internet and "real life" research. I have friends and family in diverse fields - Hub's a mechanice w/a knowledge of all things related to cars, motorcyles, guns, tools or electricity (in the event of an apocalypse, me and the Diva will be well cared for.) One SIL an accountant, one BIL a lawyer, nother BIL an IT guy, etc.

I find the Internet is great for information on far away places, but you can't stick to just one website.

I've also emailed complete strangers when I run across something useful and want to know more. One bewildered lady in Iceland gave me information on the Old Icelandic language - not sure she understood when I explained the book I was writing!