Monday, November 23, 2009

Research v Testimony

I love to talk to people and hear their stories. Research is important to get the facts, but there is nothing like personal testimony to add feeling and realism to your writing.
There is a down side.

First, you have to assume the person is telling the truth. Then you have to assume he is remembering the facts right. One patient I have always gets sympathy by claiming " I was injured in Nam"
t is true, he was injured in Vietnam, after he stole a jeep, got drunk and ran it into a tree.

When dealing with personal testimony, you deal with faulty memory, mixed facts and slanted information.

One client told me about being AWOL when Pearl Harbor was bombed. He met a woman and stayed the night at her place instead of going back to the Arizona. The act of rebellion saved his life, but left him with survivor guilt.
I can't think of a reason why he would lie about this. when gathering personal testimony it is important to weigh the facts with what is possible on an individual basis.

Even if the information isn't 100% accurate, opinions enrich the characters.
Canisters of mustard gas was sunk into the ocean after WWI. It was the opinion of one man that the canisters are breaking open and this is why we have such a problem with red tide.
Possible? The mustard gas indeed affected breathing as does red tide. Is it caused by a contaminate or is it naturally occurring?

One subject I couldn't resist asking my patients was how dating was different fifty years ago as opposed to now. History will tell you attitudes changed because of birth control and the sexual revolution, but I will never forget the sadness in my patients eyes when she took my hand and explained how women have hurt themselves over the years.

she explained how romance was bled from courtship. Sex was a stagnant act, something to do when there was nothing on the TV. commitment has flown away on the breeze because couples no longer take the time to build a relationship. They want it all too fast, and love is something that can't be rushed.
she felt genuine sympathy for the new generation of women, because in a desire to be equal, to be strong, we abandoned the joy of being feminine.

Men instinctively care for us, they protect us. In our struggle to be more like them, we forgot who we are and made it more confusing to deal with us. In 1912, the Titanic sank. It was not debated, women and children were given the life boats. men accepted death with courage and dignity, certain they were acting with honor.

In 2000 men answered a questionnaire, many would not be willing to give a woman his seat on the life boat. many see no problem with striking a woman, especially if she hits first.

Maybe she is old fashioned and maybe the circumstances vary person to person. Research gives the facts, but testimony pumps the blood into the heart.
As writers, its up to us to strike a balance.


Lindsay Townsend said...

Fascinating blog, Jen. Thank you for this - you've given me several very usefyl tips.

Jen Childers said...

I'm glad you liked it

Free Blogger Templates by Isnaini Dot Com . Powered by Blogger and PDF Ebooks