An air of authenticity -OR- That’s why God invented Wikipedia*

Wikipedia was actually founded by this guy - Jimmy Wales - but it's not as funny
*Yes, I know Wikipedia was actually founded by this guy – Jimmy Wales – but it’s not as funny

“Write what you know” can only get you so far.

What if you want to write something you don’t know that much about?

One word: research.

Thought you were done with that when you got out of school? No such luck, my friend.

When you write, you want to make the reader/audience feel like you know what you’re talking about, or least give the impression you do. Just making stuff up or copying something used in an older movie is the lazy approach.

This isn’t saying you need a character spouting a master’s thesis on the subject, but tossing a few facts or proper terms here and there can really go a long way towards establishing credibility.

If you’re still in the outline phase, this is prime researching time. As you’re developing your story, try to find out something you can use that would make it that much more believable.  While this practice definitely applies to anything history-based, it also works with stories set in the present.

Say you’re working on a medical drama. Those characters should be able to immediately identify a certain condition, the cause (if necessary) and what the treatment is. Spending a few minutes finding this information out will make that possible.  You think the writers of HOUSE just made stuff up? Nope. The medical problem in each episode was based on facts.

Researching could also prove to be a key part of moving your story forward. Maybe a character finds something out or reveals something that suddenly changes the direction things are going.

Writing about a profession you know nothing about? Talk to someone who actually does that for a living. How would they handle this type of situation? When someone finds out you’re writing a story and want their input, they’re usually pretty enthusiastic about helping you.

Spending some time finding stuff out can even pay off when you least expect it, or aren’t expecting it all. Even if you don’t use it this time, there’s a good chance it could come in handy somewhere down the line.

This way you can solve that particular problem faster, thereby making yourself look that much more like a writing genius, impressing all who sample your craft.

And isn’t that what it’s really all about?

5 thoughts on “An air of authenticity -OR- That’s why God invented Wikipedia*

  1. You’re right, research can lead you in all kinds of new directions. In the project I’m working on now, one character is a former Russian spy who finds herself in Berlin’s international airport. When I decided I needed to find the name of the airport, a quick search not only turned up the name, but the fact that the Berlin Airlift took place there. Suddenly the scene went from somebody just waiting for a plane to somebody pondering world conflict and how nothing has really changed over the years; adding background that described how her father, another Russian spy, actually participated in the attempted sabotage of the airlift was icing on the cake. It really deepened what I thought would be a throwaway scene.

  2. I couldn’t agree more, so many times a factual flub can be the defining moment in a script. Laurentian Abyss from Transformers for example. How simple would it have been to either change that to the correct location or simply add “One of”. And done. Instead this famous faux pas is now a go to for people who want a reason to discredit the scripts integrity.
    Doing work on this Sci-Fi epic I am forced to do a lot of astronomical research. I have articles and Nova shows saves for the simple purpose of informing me through the process.

    • This is just my opinion, but you can usually rely on an Orci/Kurtzmann script not being incredibly smart to begin with.

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