Friday, April 5, 2013

The importance of learning for yourself.

Research. The very word conjures up nightmares of all-night study sessions in college and high school. It's dreaded in science classes of all ages and when we're all done with our mandated education, it's a word that we hope never to hear uttered ever again.

That's too bad.

Learning isn't something that ends with school. We learn every time we find out something we didn't know before and every time we screw something up. Imagine what you could learn by doing a little research just out of curiosity.

As a writer, I'm constantly looking things up and doing research to make sure I get my facts right. Even writing fiction, you need to make sure you have your information correct. Readers are already suspending some of their disbelief when they read the premise of your story, they'll get right away if your book is set on some distant planet where the laws of physics don't seem to apply or it's set in the house down the street from them. Once that world is set in their minds, you don't get much more leeway than that, so you need to get things right.

It's not just big details either, it's the little things. It's amazing sometimes what small details can pull people out of the story you've so carefully crafted just because they happen to know that you got that fact wrong. Even if it's a minor detail, getting it wrong can mean ostracizing an entire demographic of possible readers. Some people might think I'm splitting hairs here, but I've heard from a lot of authors whose email inboxes got flooded after publishing a book with a wrong fact in them. 

As an example, my next book follows an army special ops team. I know nothing about how the army actually does special ops, what their organization is or anything like that. If I got those facts wrong and published the book, not only would I be getting more information on them than I could ever realistically use in my life, I would be ruining the book for pretty much anyone that's been in the army. (I must admit as well to some trepidation as to what my search history now lists and I don't doubt that I'm currently being watched.) So research is very important for writers, even if we don't consider it as much as we should. 

People also should spend more time learning in their daily lives. Especially on the internet, things are posted, said and spread around as truth when in reality they are anything but. Still, people accept them as they are because they just don't know any better. It's really sad to me the kinds of things people believe because they just don't know better and are too lazy to find out the truth for themselves. There really ARE people who live under the opinion that everything on the internet is the truth. 

You won't see me bring up politics a lot in this blog, but this is the perfect example of what I'm talking about. Both sides just go back and forth with their rhetoric about how the other side is screwing people over and how they can make things better. They bring up arguments, points and counter-points that take real information and embellish and twist the facts to support their side even to the point where the kernel of truth that was there is now unrecognizable. And between these two sides you have people that are so set in the idea that one side always lies and one side always tells the truth that they are actually willing to fight to protect those twisted ideals. People just follow what they're told and never question it, taking what their side holds as the truth for gospel even when the truth is actually still somewhere in-between.

There are ways to fix this. Websites like  and Wikipedia are both excellent sources of information on specific subjects and stories. Are these sites perfect? Of course not, they're still created and run by human beings after all, but they are a start. It's honestly a horrible thing that information is at our fingertips like never before and people seem to know less and less about history, science and the world around us. 

I'm not suggesting studying up on things and trying to be the best Jeopardy champion that ever lived. I'm suggesting when you see something that interests you, take the opportunity to learn about it. If you read something the scares you, go find out if it's true. Don't just take things for granted and don't just accept things as the truth because you don't want to be bothered to learn about it. 

So now that you're done here, go out and learn about something. Please?

~ Shaun


  1. I'm glad I found your blog (after you commented on mine), I've added it to my RSS feeds. You're doing fine on Facebook, more likes than me!

    I do research in two stages. The first is the research I have to do before I can plot and write. For example, there'd be no point me writing scenes about medical practice without researching first - I'd be wasting my time sending the plot down avenues that wouldn't exist in real life. However, in many cases you can thankfully let your imagination run free and do the secondary research (which is mostly just fact checking and 'local detail adding') afterwards as part of the editing process (as detailed here I enjoy the second type most since it has a logical end - the problem with the first type of research is that you could keep doing it forever!

  2. Indeed, I find I do most of my research as I get to points where I know I don't know enough to make the scene work, then I'll go through, look the information up and incorporate it, learning as I go. I find a lot more information sticks that way for the next time I need it.