Episode #125 of the Stack Overflow podcast is here. We talk Tilde Club and mechanical keyboards. Listen now
86

Wikipedia is a crowd-sourced site where anybody can contribute, just like this one. Wikipedia strives for verifiability and neutrality and has an active user community, but that doesn't mean that things can't get past it. It doesn't mean information there can't be wrong. Some pages are full of detailed, reliable information; some are not. So, in ...


73

I simply let my character survive a wound that he shouldn't have survived, and then left a note at the bottom about what would have really happened. As a reader, this would break my immersion and ruin the story, everything after that is BS, I know it, the author knows it, and did it anyway. Change the plot point. Change the injury to something crippling ...


60

Since the subject matter on which the character is an expert is specific to the world that you created and not related to any real world knowledge or faith, you already know everything there is to know on the subject. The problem is, there is not yet a lot to know because you haven't invented it yet. You need to make some decisions about how resurrection ...


44

You don't need to be able to build homemade explosive to describe a character who does. You just need to give the reader the impression that the character knows what he/she's up to. Most of the reader won't know how to make or detonate bombs anyway, so you can probably impress them without turning your story into the Anarchist Guide to Explosives. So, ...


44

Things changed. Several reviews on the reliability of Wikipedia concluded it is about as accurate as more standard encyclopaedias, while having more content. I too have heard that Wikipedia should not be used at all when I was in school, but nowadays, at least at the universities I have some acquaintances in, professors do not hesitate to point to Wikipedia ...


43

I had to do the same thing for my novel only instead of a doctor, I needed a vet. It was only one scene but it was very detailed so I needed to get the information bang on. I think the key to consulting experts is to respect their time. To that end, I started with Google and did as much research myself as I could so that when I approached professionals I ...


39

Is it okay? Well, it's likely legal (if the person is long dead anyway, and probably even if they're alive). You can do it. You might even get it published. For a large number of readers, the answer is that, no, it's not okay. Though what percentage of that really depends on the details. Fictionalization of historic events is extremely common and ...


32

Sometimes writers make mistakes. Sometimes they didn't know something. Sometimes they chose to ignore a fact because it got in the way of their story. This is so common, TV tropes has a whole family of tropes related to the phenomenon. Of particular interest to you would be Artistic License - Medicine with all its subtropes, and Critical Research Failure. ...


31

"Did you know if you mixed equal parts of gasoline and frozen orange juice concentrate you can make napalm?" - Tyler Durden, Fight Club But guess what, it doesn't work. The author made that up. But in the context of the story the method works. Making factual mistakes in the description of bomb making might in fact be the responsible thing to do. You don't ...


26

The answer is research, research, and more research. I'm not an expert on horseback riding, or sword-fighting, or ruling a country. The only way I can write convincingly about those subjects is by doing research. Research can take many forms. It can be reading about the subject, both guides and first-hand accounts. It can be talking to people who do the ...


24

As someone else has said, every pregnancy is different. I am currently eight months pregnant, have been pregnant before, and pretty much every woman my age I know seems to be pregnant right now, so I can give you some insights, but I'd like to also say a few things about research and writing. Research You say you're 'not going to leave home just to meet ...


22

Getting your facts straight is one of the rules of literature. As with the other rules of literature, it is one thing to know the rule and know when to break it, but another thing to ignore the rule when it's needed. In the case of this rule, there is no substitute for knowing what the facts actually are. Only then can you justify presenting a different ...


22

Many authors do include that kind of information outside of the story itself. Typically it goes in a foreword or afterword, which are essays the author finds useful to include with the story that can contain almost anything, including the acknowledgements section (usually separate). These are directed to the reader, often in a conversational tone. I imagine ...


19

Ask an expert. Obviously, research is an important first step. But there's only a finite amount of research you can do, and without intimate knowledge of the subject, you have no way of knowing whether the research you're doing is the right research. So find an expert, and convince them to be a beta reader. They'll be able to spot the things that stand ...


17

I like to say that broadly speaking, Wikipedia is mostly trustworthy when statements are cited, but it's never a source. There are several parts to this. Wikipedia is broadly and mostly trustworthy -- Most of the time, especially in articles of broad interest, errors are caught and at least flagged, if perhaps not addressed, quickly. This is what the [...


16

For an instructive comparison, look at Stephen King's description of the 1950s in his book 11/22/63, about a man who goes back from modern times to try to prevent the Kennedy assassination, but has to enter the era in 1958 and wait five years. King goes to great pains to describe differences between the present times and that era: it's about the way a root ...


16

"I simply let my character survive a wound that he shouldn't have survived" Real people do this all the time, one of my favourites was a guy in Alaska who accidentally severed his own jugular vein with a chainsaw and then proceeded to walk 20 odd miles to the nearest town for help. He should have been unconscious almost instantly and died a few moments ...


14

An abstract should cover the whole paper. It reports what the paper is for, what you did and the conclusion. E.g. This paper explores the hypothesis that you can't teach an old dog new tricks. The experiment classifies new tricks as tricks the dog hasn't learned before. Six dogs were used in the trial. Three old, three not old. Two tricks were used. One ...


14

The O.S.S. and I My great-uncle wrote a book about his experience with the Office of Strategic Services in WWII, full of stories of espionage and clandestine acts. There is even a chapter titled "How to Blow Up a Bridge." It may not be a textbook answer to your question, but perhaps the tone and (exciting!) stories could give you some inspiration. It's ...


14

I actually find it somewhat intriguing that you're asking this on Stack Exchange. Consider that by now, Stack Exchange has over 170 different sites on different subjects, which aim to draw professionals and dedicated amateurs in the respective fields. Stack Exchange isn't the only such site. There's tons of web forums as well as other sites that draw ...


14

A really good example of this is The Martian, where the key event for Watney being stranded on Mars is a violent storm which damages equipment, injures Watney and threatens the lander. Andy Weir was perfectly aware that Mars does not in fact have winds which would match the novel's events - whilst winds on Mars can be extremely fast, the thin atmosphere ...


13

Why do you not want to ask a real person directly? Most people are pleased if they can tell about their job, especially when an author says he wants to write about it in a novel. This "writing what you know" is becoming more and more dangerous, because it is widely misinterpreted. It's just an advice, that you shouldn't be too disappointed if you try to ...


13

The idea that anyone can edit Wikipedia is often put forward as a bad thing, but with Wikipedia it's part of the peer review process and this happens a lot faster than it does with printed encyclopedias. It also depends how you use it - as Monica mentions, the trick is to treat every page as a piece of journalism, and use it as a starting summary for the ...


13

Wikipedia policy requires that editors cite sources to support their edits. However, there's no systematic process for checking that editors are accurately representing the sources they cite, or that the sources are reliable, or that they even exist. It usually works pretty well when a page attracts attention from multiple editors who are willing to ...


13

No. Wikipedia is not a reliable source. Wikipedia can be edited by anyone at any time. This means that any information it contains at any particular time could be vandalism. Biographies of living persons are especially vulnerable to this issue. Some of the article information might not be accurately true, which is therefore considered to be wrong. ...


13

"I'm just curious" is not a very compelling argument, especially when you're emailing a random stranger who's probably too busy to answer every such email that enters his inbox. "I'm writing a book", however... who doesn't want to have their story told in a book, or see something they're passionate about get adapted into a story? Let me give you an example. ...


13

Shakespeare did it. Richard III was not a homicidal maniac killing young princes. He was an able king. The movie Fatherland presents an alternate history where WWII never happened, Hitler is an able leader and JFK is an aging US President. It all works well because it had a purpose. History did not quite suit the needs of the story, so history changed. ...


13

I've read a few books that had an "afterword" section at the end, where the author would address the reader directly to talk about the work. I know Anthony Horowitz did this with the Alex Rider series; one book had him list his top 10 favourite deaths across the whole series, and I think another had him discuss his decision to have Scorpia end with So you ...


12

If you're relying on Wikipedia as a source, then it's worth noting that the Wikipedia page on identifying reliable sources for use in Wikipedia articles states in no uncertain terms that Wikipedia articles (and Wikipedia mirrors) in themselves are not reliable sources for any purpose. That's not as paradoxical as it sounds, because a Wikipedia article ...


Only top voted, non community-wiki answers of a minimum length are eligible