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Unearth Surprising Facts to Give Your Story Authenticity

October 9th, 2012 Matt Leave a comment Go to comments
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This week I have mostly been doing research, and as always I’ve found surprising things I can’t wait to use.

Life’s Little Surprises

One of the best things about research is the little facts you don’t expect to find.

For a start, you might think you know something pretty well, but soon discover you have never really looked. Take the Statue Of Liberty. It’s such an iconic figure, even for people who aren’t from the US (I’m from the UK) that it is constantly in the background of cultural consciousness.

And do you examine things in the background? Take just the head. Ask yourself, do you know

  • how many rays are on the crown?
  • what the back of the head looks like?
  • what the top of the head looks like?
  • how big it is? Sure, we’ve all seen that Ghostbusters 2 scene where they’re inside the head, but is it accurate?
Ghostbusters 2

I don’t know… does that seem a little big to you?

Of course there will be people scoffing at me for not knowing these things, and maybe it does matter if you’re American or not, but hey, call me ignorant if it makes you feel better.

The point is, familiar objects or places become new when we really look, and it’s these kinds of details that make your writing feel authentic. Drop in a detail that makes a reader think, “really? I did not know that,” and you force your reader to do what you have already done – look at something anew and reassess it, as if they were really there.


Interestingly the head in Cloverfield was oversized (in the final film. The promo was correct), because that’s what test audiences expected. The idea of the Statue Of Liberty is still greater in the public consciousness than accurate representations thereof.

You Didn’t Even Know You Were Looking For It

As well as finding unexpected details, you may discover something you weren’t even looking for.

When researching the Statue of Liberty, I discovered that Cloverfield nugget in the caption above. That prompted me to include a comment from the protagonist, saying the head was smaller than he imagined (like in Cloverfield, the head is sans body in my story).

I also discovered the face was modelled after the designer’s mother, which I include in the story as well.

Of course, there were many other little facts that did not make it in. As with anything in your story, including it gives it a special resonance it does not necessarily have outside of this context. What does it say about the statue’s place in society that the head is smaller than expected? How does the mother notion resonate, and what is the character’s reaction?

It seems like an odd thing to say, because it seems so obvious, but the takeaway is do your research. Ideally of course, I would visit the statue, but such things are not always practical.

These days though, there’s simply no excuse. There have always been books and libraries of course (although there might not be either for much longer), but now there is the mighty internet. Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, Flicker, maps, facts and figures all at your fingertips.

We have never had access to so much information. Even without visiting places in real life, you can quickly find something you were unaware of to lend your story that authenticity, or to work out what spin you can use when you include it in your text.

Over to you:
How do you research? Is there a method you prefer, or does it depend on the project? Ever found something out that’s changed the way you’ve used it in your story? Research how to add comments to this post, and then do so below!

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