Today the Dragon Wins

"Today the Dragon Wins" offers information from Fantasy Author and Professional Editor Sandy Lender. You'll also find dragons, wizards, sorcerers, and other fantasy elements necessary for a fabulous story, if you know where to look...

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Sandy Lender is the editor of an international trade publication and the author of the fantasy novels Choices Meant for Gods and Choices Meant for Kings, available from ArcheBooks Publishing, and the series-supporting chapbook, What Choices We Made.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Writer's Guide
Research - Primary Sources

With the advent of the internet, writers, scholars, journalists and researchers found a wealth of information at their fingertips. A person can prepare a term paper without ever leaving home. Need to check out some specific region in Austria for a scene in a play? Hop online and find what you're looking for with just a few strategically-considered search words.

Hold on there, though, once that search engine brings back your results. A good journalist or scholar filters those results for primary and secondary source material.

A primary source is a first-hand account. This is akin to getting information straight from the horse's mouth, as it were. If you go directly to Mrs. Smith, you can get a quote about the ingredients in her pies, and you can probably trust it. If I want information about the estate at Arcana in my fantasy novel Choices Meant for Gods, I'll go straight to Nigel Taiman over at because he's been managing and maintaining the place for years. He's a primary source.

A secondary source is someone who knows a first-hand person or someone who is relaying information for the first-hand person. The website for a major corporation, run by its public relations department, with only management-approved statements, can be viewed as a primary source, but the daily newspaper quoting the website is a secondary source. The newspaper is summarizing and filtering (and, if it's like most media in this country, manipulating) the information for the mass market. If I ask Henry Bakerson at from Choices Meant for Gods about the estate at Arcana, I'm checking in with a secondary source because he doesn't live there and hasn't been there for six years.

If you're reporting something in your writing, use a primary source to make yourself relevant.

Now, if you're writing fiction, the rules relax a bit because you're treading on more forgiving ground. You can make something up or twist a fact and call it art, but even in this craft you want to be careful. If you've set characters in the real world and have them riding their bikes from Highland to LaBrea for half an hour in L.A., some reader is going to notice that it shouldn't take as much time as you've given it. It pays to get on a real honest-to-God L.A. city map service website and check the distance. Make sure there's a bike lane. Make sure mud slides haven't wiped it out. Hit the California Department of Transportation website and see if any construction projects have the road closed during the month(s) that your story takes place. Research. Better yet: if you live anywhere near L.A., become the primary source yourself and go check it out. If you live in Connecticut, call up a friend or send an e-mail request through one of your online writer's groups to have one of them check it out for you, thus turning a pal into your primary source.

That's a pretty mundane example, but I think you get my point. If you get a detail wrong, even in fiction writing where you get to "make up" the story, someone out there will notice. Make sure the sources where you gather information are accurate, reliable, and first-hand accounts to protect your credibility and enhance not just your fiction writing, but other forms of writing as well.

(Fantasy Author Sandy Lender has been an editor in the magazine publishing industry for more than 15 years and is the author of the new epic fantasy novel Choices Meant for Gods, now available from ArcheBooks Publishing.)

"Some days, I just want the dragon to win."

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Blogger Jeni said...

Good information there about primary and secondary sources, Sandy. I had no clue about terms like those although, when thinking about fiction writing, it was something I wondered about - how to deal with the accuracy factors even if you are "making something up" at the same time. Very good post, my dear!

9:55 AM  
Blogger Nigel said...

Jeni, Darling, good to see you back again. Sandy's flitting about looking up old friends instead of writing or answering comments, so I'm responding to you, Love. I guess a muse's work is never done...

And I don't understand this primary versus secondary nonsense either, so I'll just jog over to your blog and we can talk about something else.

All my best,
Nigel Taiman

5:41 PM  

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