Writers Need Sources

September 23, 2015

Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, you’ll need content. Since you can’t know everything about everything, you’ll need to rely on sources to help you get that content.

You might start your research by reading books, articles, blogs, emails, or other printed material. However, your most interesting (and useful) information will come from people.

So, how do you find the people you should interview? They’re everywhere, but it’s up to you to be judicious in deciding who you’ll trust as a source. Colleagues, co-workers, neighbors, friends, family, fellow members of organizations are all possibilities. You might even locate an expert by researching directories of professions, associations, and universities.

What should you do when you find someone you’d like to interview? Try emailing them. Try phoning them. Try making an appointment to see them.

Remember that you’re looking for first-hand information, experiences, and anecdotes based on education, work, interests, hobbies, or even some event a source witnessed. The main thing is your source must be willing to share, or you won’t be able to use the information in your writing.

When I was writing articles, I recorded all of my interviews. I always told the source that I was recording the interview and I was doing it to assure I got the information and any quotes accurate–a protection for both the source and for me.

Speaking of quotes, be aware readers don’t particularly like to read a lot of direct quotes from sources. Use your writing skills and paraphrase, but make sure your paraphrase is accurate.

Other cautions to be aware of are:

  • Verify the credentials of your expert. Sometimes people aren’t as they project themselves, but it’s your credibility (as writer) that’s at risk if you haven’t checked out your source.
  • Appreciate the sources offering time and information, but avoid promising to use the information (you’ll want to verify its accuracy if you can before using it).
  • Be careful about sharing the overall gist (favorable or unfavorable to a specific viewpoint) of the book/article. You may change your mind as you learn more about your subject matter. If asked specifically about the viewpoint, simply say the book will reflect the information you get during your research.
  • Keep any promises you do make to the source. If you offer to send a copy of your book (or article), make sure you do just that.

Finding and working with sources can be some of the most fun you’ll have as a writer. FInd a topic that interests you. FInd people who can help you learn more about it. Enjoy the journey. Happy writing!

Point of View Primer

September 16, 2015

When I belonged to the Minneapolis Writers Workshop, the critique fiction writers heard most often dealt with point of view errors or inconsistencies. With that in mind, I offer a point of view (POV) primer. Think back to basic pronouns and you’ll see the differences among first person, second person, third person, and omniscient points of view.

First Person: The first person character uses the “I” viewpoint. Since the reader gets the story exactly as the character does, the character has to be present at all important story happenings.

Second Person: The second person character uses the “You” viewpoint. This is a difficult point of view to write because your writing has to constantly help the reader figure out who “you” refers to.

Third Person: The third person point of view can be limited to one character or it can be used with multiple characters. However you decide to use it, third person characters use the “He” and “She” viewpoint. The advantage of third person is that the author is not limited to one person’s head (as in first person). The author can share the story from one character’s view, then see the story from a different character’s view (but you can only be in one head at a time). For example, one character may be visual while the other may be more auditory. They both experience a concert, but the visual character sees the stage, costumes, lights while the auditory character hears the melody, beat, and various instruments. CAUTION: Be kind to your reader and try to limit your writing to one POV character per chapter, or at least per scene. Let your reader know which character’s head you’re in for that chapter or scene. You can do that by starting the scene with that character’s thought or action. Also, be careful that you give all your main third person characters equal presence in the story.

Omniscient: This point of view has no single character. Instead, it relies on author comment to help the reader follow the story that jumps from point of view to point of view. Readers don’t get the opportunity to relate well to any character, but the author can easily make major points in the story.  CAUTION: While the omniscient point of view may look easy, playing God and jumping from one character’s head to the next, inserting judgments, and keeping reader attention can be more challenging to you as author (to write) than any of the other viewpoints.

If you’re a fiction writer, I trust this point of view primer will be helpful. Happy writing!