True Lies

What makes great fiction?  Facts.

That’s what made The Da Vinci Code so awesome that I could not stop reading it.  Sure, the characters were invented, as was the plot, but that’s about as far as the fiction went.  The amount of research that Dan Brown must have done regarding the Catholic Church, the Knights Templar, the Holy Grail, the Priory of Sion, the Bible, Cryptography, art, history, etc., just to create this masterpiece of literature astounds me.

It was 2:30 in the morning when I read the part about Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting, “The Last Supper,” which depicts Jesus and the twelve apostles.  Or does it?  The story suggests that the person to the left of Jesus, as you’re looking at the painting, is in fact a woman, Mary Magdalene.  I quickly pulled up the image on my computer and stared in awe.  (I’ll pause here while you check it out.)

I think that’s where a lot of authors come up short.  We spend so much time inventing our stories, we forget one thing that makes a book appealing to readers—believability.  That’s what makes a person connect and relate to the story.

Do your research and lots of it.  Also, don’t be afraid to ask people to be a contributor, someone who’s been there, done that.  For example, if you’re writing a book about a short, fat, bald guy who’s always broke, yet you really don’t know exactly what that’s like, give me a call.

I recently finished my second novel, a legal thriller, and sent the manuscript to several people to preview.  My sister, who is a 14 year veteran police officer and investigator, called me to tell me her thoughts on the scene where they show up with an arrest warrant.  After she stopped laughing, I asked her to tell me how it would really happen—and she did.

Besides my sister, I ended up with several other contributors: a retired judicial assistant, a D.C. attorney, a retired school teacher, a Major in the Air Force, and an inmate of the Montgomery County jail.  (That’s right—I have friends in high and low places.)  All made the story stronger than it would have been with me guessing.

Of course this wouldn’t apply to Science Fiction and Fantasy books.  I doubt Stephenie Meyer did a lot of research on real werewolves and vampires.  If she had, she would have learned that vampires do not sparkle when sunlight hits them—they explode.  Everyone knows that.  Sheesh!

Remember, due diligence is key so keep it real.


Neal Wooten, Publisher/Indie Author/Illustrator/Cartoonist

Managing Editor; Mirror Publishing, Milwaukee, WI,
Author of Reternity,

Posted by on March 27, 2012. Filed under Books,Neal Wooten. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

34 Responses to True Lies

  1. Barbara

    March 27, 2012 at 10:32 am

    You made me laugh! The time I spend researching for a simple blog post is longer than the writing. It also makes all the difference. My hope is to some day be able to afford someone else to do the research. But if you’re writing a book about a short, aging woman with a keen sense of humor who’s always broke, give me a call. ;)

    • Erin Birdsall

      March 31, 2012 at 9:47 am

      Neal, great advice with a touch of humor. Like Barbara please don’t hesitate to contact me if you need insight on a 37 year old graduate student who works full time and doesn’t know which end is up on most days…

  2. Sandra White

    March 27, 2012 at 10:43 am

    I agree fully with your take on research. Having gone back to graduate school while in my 50′s, I became quite “caught up” in research (sort of necessary for a doctoral dissertation). For several years, I accumulated many, many facts regarding elder abuse–never dreaming I’d use it for writing a novel. It simply was a sociological topic that interested me–I guess because I find it so appalling. And when I wrote my first novel, The Album, in which the protagonist was the victim of elder abuse, my research was at my fingertips.

    Sandra White

  3. Jen Wallis

    March 27, 2012 at 11:11 am

    Love your humor! Research does make all the difference. You have to know some facts about your story si people can really relate to it. And it is always good to get an opinion from others on your manuscript. Your friends and family are a great resource.

  4. ALWAYS have someone read your manuscript, not only for authenticity but also for veracity. If writing a children’s book, are the terms and concepts such that a child of your target audience will understand? Are you assuming too much knowledge on the part of your audience? Or assuming too little knowledge? Have peers review what you write.

    Neal, do you belong to a writer’s group in Milwaukee? I went to a meeting of one once, but then never any follow-up and I never saw an ad that that group was meeting again. This is where writers can share ideas about writing as well.

    As to your original point, the Germans believe God is speaking directly to them because Martin Luther, in translating the Bible, would go to the various gildsmen and ask of them, “What terms would you use for this, that, or another thing? How do you do this task or that task?” Any writer should do the same.

    • Neal Wooten

      March 27, 2012 at 11:20 am

      I’ve taken some creative writing classes, John, but I haven’t been to a writer’s group. If you know of some, or come across some here in Milwaukee again, let me know and we’ll both go.

      • Maranda Russell

        March 27, 2012 at 11:40 am

        Neal, is a great place to find out about local writing groups. In fact, here is a link to one in Milwaukee, You might want to check it out.

        • Neal Wooten

          March 27, 2012 at 12:08 pm

          Great link, Maranda. I clicked on the link and was embarrassed. It’s the same organization that sponsors my book club, The Page Turners, and I am already a member. Boy is my face red.

  5. Mary Donaldson, author of MARY ELIZA

    March 27, 2012 at 11:47 am

    I’d enjoy knowing what inspired you to write a legal thriller. What inspires you to choose the subjects you write about?
    Also, thank you for giving such great food for thought to so many of us who need all the help we can get.

    • Neal Wooten

      March 27, 2012 at 12:24 pm

      OK, Mary, but you asked.

      With this latest book, it started five years ago when this woman who worked for the governor’s office here in Wisconsin was on trial. She had directed projects in the form of gifts to this construction company for political donations. During her trial, I kept saying she would be exonerated, but my wife favored guilty. She was convicted and sentenced to 25 years. It went to an appellate court, however, that reversed the decision and she was freed. They stated, as I had stated, that you cannot convict someone in this county, no matter how horrible the offense, if there is not an actual law on the books against what they have done. (They quickly added the law afterward.)

      That got me to thinking about how flawed the system is, but only because of the human element. Too many times, jurors vote along their own prejudices and not by the evidence. So, in my new book, “My Brother, My Judge,” courtrooms in the near future are reconfigured with electronic verdict machines, making judges, juries, and prosecutor a thing of the past.

  6. Joanna Cook

    March 27, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    I can not agree more with Neal Wooten. I do believe that as an author researches and incorporates the facts into their writing, that the literature becomes more believable to the author as well as the reader. This dualism becomes a great combination for an enjoyable as well as believable read.

    Joanna Cook, author and illustrator
    “The Wrenolds” series

  7. Lonnie McKelvey

    March 27, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    I’ve learned a lot from Neal about writing and publishing. This is another excellent article.

  8. Rebecca Fronzaglio

    March 27, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    Love this article on researching and keeping it real Neal. Speaking of researching,I recently did a search on the subject…Which day is the true Sabbath? Coming accross a fasinating article from David C. Pack and after reading it, I couldn’t help but wonder…could I have been wrong all along? Is Saturday the true Sabbath? The day to rest and reflect as God did. Didn’t Jesus celebrate the Sabbath from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown? Yes, and I know this was Jewish tradition and Jesus was Jewish, but the 7th day is Saturday on every calendar…Or is it? Saturday the Sabbath (tradition or commandment?). When was God’s 4th commandment ever changed and who changed it? All I know is, right or wrong, Jew or non-Jew, I enjoyed mass on Saturday eve and sleeping in on Sunday. I also enjoyed guilt-free gardening last Sunday… and as I cut my Mother’s grass in the late afternoon, I wondered how many neighbors were secretly pointing their fingers at me and mumbling under their breath…Heathen. But as I worked, I smiled a childish smile. I was energized and full of joy. I felt special for the first time in a long time. Like I knew a special secret no one else around knew. I almost felt rebellious, but in a good way. I chose to rebell against the rules of the world and felt very invigerated doing so. Although religious in nature, my comment isn’t to stir-up any religious disagreements or to prove I’m right. Cause I seldom am. It’s merely meant to raise the question…How much do we know vs. How much do we think we know? Are we so use to tradition and our own comfort zones that we forget to challege our thoughts and question our thinking? So, just when you think you know it all, research,and Google. You’ll learn something new or maybe even learn you were wrong all along.

    • Neal Wooten

      March 27, 2012 at 12:14 pm

      So true, Rebecca. We never really know. I have friends who are Seventh Day Adventists who have explained to me what you have said here. If you were writing a book about this, you wouldn’t simply say that Saturday is the Sabbath, you would research and explain in the narrative or the dialogue why your story leans this way.

  9. corey colombin

    March 27, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    Neal, I think your Da Vinci Code experience echoed mine. The clock kept inching toward an irretrievably bad night’s sleep, but I kept reading it- damned the consequences. I agree wholeheartedly on the research too, which is why I’ve had many conversations with medical people for a few medical mentions in a couple of chapters in my yet-to-be-published latest novel. I also had to chat extensively with a friend of mine to make sure the sassy Brit sidekick was “spot on.” I want it to be believable, rather than fodder for jokes. But that doesn’t even scrape the surface of what Dan Brown must have embarked upon in his research. Mine only involves buying some friends coffee and wine and giggling a bit over fact-finding.

    Corey Colombin
    author of Confessions of a Coffee Slinger,
    Eli Ate a Fly, and Poor Me.

  10. Carol McLernon

    March 27, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    Yes, please keep them coming.I need the networking.

  11. Concetta Payne

    March 27, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    This was a great read,Neal! You’re not the only person that couldn’t put The Da Vinci Code down. I agree that research is a major key to any successful book. Writing my children’s books I not only do expansive research, but also converse with many young children. From their broad imagination and innovative spirit I’ve learned quite a bit. Wishing you much success with your new thriller, and please keep us informed. Thanks again for an article well worth the read.

  12. Concetta Payne

    March 27, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    Hi Neal, You’re not the only one that coundn’t put the Da Vinca Code down. I agree that research is the key to any success book. Writing children’s stories I not only do expansive research, but also converse with many young children. I’ve learned quite a bit. Wishing you much success with your new thriller, and please keep us informed. Thank you for this worthy read.

  13. Concetta Payne

    March 27, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    Ooops, sorry folks please disregard the second post.

  14. Sandra Fishel Brandon

    March 27, 2012 at 5:09 pm

    Good article Neal. So far I’ve not written anything that took much research. But I have found in writing books for children that observing my own children and now grandchildren gives me subject material and insights into what they like to read about.

  15. Jodi Fiore, author of Lia-Ria Adventures

    March 27, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    More great advice Neal! I am currently writing my next book for children about history, yes, I know-I know – it is a subject that has been written about a gazillion and one times.

    Fortunately for me, I live with a bunch of history buffs and they have been stopping me through this new journey of mine to point out my many historical mistakes!

    I agree – research and more research is certainly the key to success! Looking forward to reading your next book!

  16. Dianna Skidmore

    March 27, 2012 at 6:14 pm

    Neal…so today I stopped at the library and picked up a bunch of books that I had reserved on line. The check out librarian asked me what I was doing with all the books…and I said RESEARCH for my next children’s book! I get home and find your article on RESEARCH! YEAH! I actually LOVE doing research. and your article is an inspiration for me to keep going. I can’t tell you how many “thrillers” I have on the back burner. They just need a little more research! Thanks for the great articles…I look forward to each one.

  17. Irma Jacobs Tirro

    March 28, 2012 at 4:29 am

    Neal, how true, how true, what you say. Even with books for children. Many times the characters are kooky animals with kooky behaviors, but research is still required to determine what the animal is like in real life and, from that, the story can take form. Even though I am from Florida, I still had to research the possum for my upcoming children’s book.
    Looking forward to your latest book.

  18. Jordyn Meryl

    March 28, 2012 at 8:29 am

    With the Internet, research is available and easy to find from your own desk. Unlimited realm of ideas and concepts. It makes writing a lot more fun. Good thoughts with this article. Thanks.

  19. Victoria Williams-Fisher

    March 28, 2012 at 11:30 am

    The research I have done for my first four novels has been a part of writing that I have found thoroughly enjoyable. The fourth novel, although it is the fourth in the modern romantic thriller series, starts out during the San Francisco Gold Rush. I find it fascinating that I learn so much during my research on the internet and also by watching old westerns in the middle of the night to pick up on some of the language used in that time period. Maybe I should find some old newspapers from back in the day and see if that is how they truly spoke! Since I don’t know any cowboys personally, I have to rely on “Rawhide” and “Wagon Train” to pick up terms like bushwhacked. What a great word! I agree with you, you have to have that believability factor. (Another great word!)

  20. Laura Marlowe

    March 28, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    Enjoyed this important article immensely (and Neal, can’t wait to read your new legal thriller that I hope is sprinkled with at least a little bit of your trademark humor; if not, I’ll still gladly read it!). Thanks for yet another great Indie Times article. (And thanks for the visual of vampires not sparkling, but instead exploding, under sunlight…and you’re right!!!)

  21. Marilyn Bishop, author of Sampson and the Gang from Hound Holler

    March 28, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    I can’t ever decide which I enjoy the most about your articles: the humor or the invaluable information. As usual, I laughed out loud – this time about the short, bald, broke guy! And great tips on the need to research.

  22. Ray Tapia

    March 29, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    Hello Neal. “RAMON #17988″ is non-fiction. I spent hours and hours viewing microfilm copies of newspaper articles from 1950 to 1963, searching for certain incidents (including my trial by jury)and photos in Colorado and Nebraska. The resulting 20 pages on 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper, with my inserted comments, substantiated the assertions in my story. Indeed, research can be meaningful or critical in either fiction OR non-fiction. Respectfully, Ray (Hey, if I call, it’ll be “collect,”)

  23. Lisa Sarver, author of "The Grateful Spider"

    March 29, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    Neal~so true. The story must be believable to the reader. I’ve been in the fact-finding stage for a few years now gathering accurate information for my first novel. At some point, I hope to have enough research completed to get beyond the beginning chapters. Just last week, I spontaneously attended a seminar because it pertained to the career of one of my antagonists. When asked by the speaker if I was here for such and such. I immediately replied, “No, I’m actually doing research”. His response was to have a seat. Along with taking my seat and a copious amount of notes, I learned a lot. You can’t write what you don’t know.

  24. Mario Cano

    April 3, 2012 at 11:55 am

    It is a fact that research must be thoroughly analyzed before producing a replacement for historical facts. Pure speculation is justification for a half-hearted generation. (my ‘take’ on the davinci code).

    • Neal Wooten

      April 3, 2012 at 12:50 pm

      Hey Mario. I understand what you’re saying about The Davinci Code. It certainly is pure speculation to say that Jesus was only a man who has offspring today. But that’s the plot and, as stated in the article, that was invented. There was still a lot of real research like the Catholic Church being the basis for our current banking system today for example. Thanks for reading.

  25. Alicia Freitas

    April 10, 2012 at 7:57 am

    You crack me up Neal! Even in my 3 picture books,those moments of research have “popped up” for accuracy in my text or my stupidity (HA!) Keep writing-you make me laugh!

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    June 20, 2012 at 1:55 pm

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