Monday, April 12, 2010

J is for Journalistic Tendencies

When I was in high school I took a "J" is for Journalism class because I thought it would be an easy 'A'.  I actually wanted to learn photography, but my family didn't have the money for a good camera.  The first day of journalism class my teacher announced that he needed a photographer and that whoever volunteered, would get to use the school's brand new telephoto lens camera.  I nearly wet my pants with anticipation.  For some reason, no one wanted to do it...the better for me, right? Uh, no.

You see, the photographer also had to develop the film in the school's darkroom, which was only available after school...and after a long and boring informative lesson on dark room procedure and etiquette from the Year Book Club's advisor. ARGH!  What I learned from that experience, besides how to NOT get Orbit Solution in my eyes, is that nothing worth while is easy.  I wanted to learn photography...I did. But, at price *sigh* in my case, it was hang-out time after school with my friends.

What I am getting at is that a lot of the Journalistic Tendencies that I picked-up during my year as a student of the newspaper business have stuck with me.  The one practice that serves me to this day, besides not volunteering for things without knowing the whole deal, is RESEARCH is important. Especially to the writer. Now, those of you who know me personally, you realize how serious I am about research. I've taken gun classes so my heroine doesn't shoot like...well, like a girl. I've studied Private Investigation so I don't sound like a doofus when describing how my main character tracks down a "Skip-Trace"...had to throw in some P.I. jargon there.
Taking classes isn't the only way to get a real understanding of a give subject. The Librarian is your friend, people, use her as a resource. She can point you to archives, building plans, technical journals, even old-timey guys that come in regularly and have the time to sit around while you pick their brain (by the way, thanks Harold!). They'll thank you for it. Librarians have so much knowledge and most people either ignore them or use them as handy alphabetizers.

Another great resource is the internet. There are a number of sites created especially for research and the writer.  The Writer's Edge has a great compilation of sites like the Library of Congress and National Press Club Resources, both places cater to the professional. And they're FREE. One of my favorite sites is Writer's Free Reference. There are useful things like currency converters, time-zone clocks, and a 1-800 directory.

Nothing throws readers out of the story more often than that jarring realization that something is off.  Its worth the effort to double-check. I'd love to know of an instance where this happened to you. Either while reading or watching a movie. To start things off I will let you in on one of mine...The internet is not magic and hackers cannot blow up natural gas stations by typing on a keyboard and "re-routing" the lines.  Not pointing any fingers *cough* Mr. Die Harder...I'm just sayin'.

Coming up: I will be hosting the Primal Scream Blogfest - Your most heart-pumping scene, May 5th...sign-ups today on the sidebar.
Until next time...Go Write!

Photograph by katerha, Uploaded on January 9, 2010. Photograph by L. Marie, Uploaded on December 24, 2006.


The Alliterative Allomorph said...

This was a really interesting post. I'm always wondering while I read novels whether the authors have done any physical research for particular things, or whether they just get their info from the library or internet and then just use their imagination.

That brings me to a question for you Raquel. How far would you go to learn everything your characters should know? (excluding murder and selling your body) Would you get yourself arrested to see what it was like to spend a night in prison for instance?

On another note. I'd like to do a blogfest too. One on 'internal conflict'. I have no idea how to go about those linky things. You think you could give me a heads up? My email is:

I'll be sure to plug yours on my blog too when the time comes. ;) I love your blog. It's right there in my top ten faves :)

Beth said...

Great J post! :)

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I'm always happy to find more research links - thanks.

Raquel Byrnes said...

Sure, I will send you the links. Also I decided to just put the link in the side seemed easier. You can sign up today.

Anonymous said...

I perform both. I research via Internet and also visit the establishments I use in my books. I eat the food off the menu and drink the same beer the characters do. Its a tough job, but someone has to do it.

Stephen Tremp

Chris Weigand said...

Great post. Love the photography especially the tattoo I Love dewey decimal system. So far my novels have all been fantasy, so I am creating my own world, but I did have to do research on torture, weapons and clothing for the medieval time period. And in my current wip I had to research volcanoes and 9-12 year olds. Most of mine is done on the internet although for the 9-12 year olds I went to my daughters elementary school and hung out with a her class and friends

Watery Tart said...

Oh, great blog! I love the lesson "don't volunteer until you know the scoop" *snort* But it's true that a little investigation goes a LONG way toward our credibility!

I tend to do my research 'after the fact' because otherwise the reseach snowballs and I go off on all sorts of non-plot related tangents (works better for me to edit after with the info), but it's important stuff!

Rae said...

You always have such interesting tips and great advice! Thanks!
My lifelong dream was to work for a romantic... reporting! photography! humor columns! cool co-workers!....
Then when I finally got a job there at age 48, it was just a lot of hard work and strict deadlines and my creativity was stifled.
I lasted 4 months, but learned a good lesson.

Juan Velez said...

I can relate with you on this topic. I was a yearbook editor, but I was never given any one on one guidance from our adviser... After graduating, I bought myself a camera and although I have astigmatism and other eye conditions, I can take amazing shots with or without a "professional" camera.

AchingHope said...

I'm actually starting an herb garden, because I need one of my character's to be knowledgable about that stuff. (Also studying Akkadian, Egyptian too.)

One Jarring Moment I had was when reading a book on the history of language, and they said that Hera was the goddess of love in Greek mythology. Uh. No. It was Athena. I felt so smart that I had realized this mistake, and promptly ran around to show all of my family members. (They smiled and patted my head.)

Gregg said...

Great post. Glad you learn when you come to mine. Hope you continue to drop by after the challenge is over.

Marjorie said...

This is a really interesting post on research. It's amazing how much work goes into writing a novel. My real question is: Will I ever find the patience?

I love to take photos too, and I also HATE the darkroom. A lot.

Ellie said...

I love your J post and all the details that helped you move forward to the writer you are today!
I definitely agree about Die Hard, I can't think of the movies, but my family and I always point out that
wouldn't/couldn't happen moment when we see it. If I think of one, I'll be back! Great post!

Wanda said...

Good post. I noticed some things off on some medical shows I watch.

ModernDayDrifter said...

This is very interesting. I took a semester of journalism in college. Not sure I liked it too much. I don't like writing on a dead line much. I'm stubborn that way. Also, the research part about writing is interesting. How many writer's actually have a technical advisor? Personally, I use my dad as mine a lot. Most of the stuff I write about are things I know already, so that helps. Having an outside opinion on it helps too.

Very interesting post!

Jen said...

Excellent and interesting post! I love your J I wish I could have come up with something like that!!

Leo said...

i wanted to be a journalist too when i was in school. i felt the urge for news in me, yet somewhere down the road, that changed and i ended up in the software world all of a sudden...enjoyed yr read.

regards ur question at my space,
sure, i guess any word can be used in poetry; the effect of the word however isn't guaranteed always.
canary? yeah sure., have taken it up. :)

Not enough hours! said...

That's another wonderful post from you. I cheat- I only write about things I already know a fair bit about, so I have to worry more about what to leave out than what to put in.

On a side note, I did a course in photography in college, and LOVED the darkroom. That is one of the things I most miss about college.

~ Rayna

Not enough hours! said...

On a different note- how does one follow your blog except directly from Facebook? I've added the feed to my google reader, but would rather follow.

~ Rayna

Julie Dao said...

Great post! I wrote for my high school newspaper and it felt like a very heavy responsibility to know my material before I wrote it for all to see. Research is so important because readers can have a sixth sense for something that rings false.

Stacey said...

Great J post, you are a very talented writer. I completely agree with what you said about Librarians- They are not just 'handy alphabetizers', well said!

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

You are entirely correct! As soon as a major, nonsensical error occurs in a story the jig is completely up and I immediately lose interest.

Let's see... examples... hmmm...

Well, that part in 'The Wizard Of Oz' with the flying monkeys. My first thought was: Wait a minute! Monkeys can't fly!

Ha! I'm just kidding, of course. Fantasy must be afforded a little more flexibility in the logic department.

But seriously, I remember a movie I saw a couple years ago called 'Red Eye' and there were a couple of really ridiculous things in that movie so early on that I just said, "Awww, B.S.!"

Good post, Raquel.

~ "Lonesome Dogg" McMe

Raquel Byrnes said...

~ Rayna,
Thank you for the follow gadget request. I have inserted it in the sidebar. Hope to see you back.