Research

Write about what you know is pretty good advice. It is possible to write about what you don’t know, but whenever you do you’re going to have to make sure that your research is spot on. The wonderful thing about Google is that you have a world of information at your fingertips. The not so wonderful thing is that not all of that information is accurate. So when I’m looking for specific facts I always find at least a couple of different sources to be sure that I’m not using flawed or bogus articles.

Most of us have felt the gamut of emotions to one degree or another, so those are fairly easy to convey. I believe though, that there are some extreme emotions that would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible for most – not all – writers to communicate unless they’ve lived them. So all the research in the world isn’t going to help you there. Readers are a canny lot. I know, because I’m one of them. If the subject is something they have a deep and personal knowledge of, you’ll probably lose them right there.

Mental illness is not something you’re going to understand unless you’re a psychiatrist, or you’ve lived it, although there is enough information available to research the experiences of others in certain instances. If you want to get inside the mind of a serial killer there is plenty of information out there, so there is absolutely no need for you to be writing what you know in this instance. Hopefully you aren’t. Not all people feel the same degrees of love or empathy, and those emotions can never be learned through research. Emulated possibly, but never learned. You’re going to have to be a brilliant scribbler to be able to write about the deep pain some empaths will feel at the suffering of another, or about a soul destroying, all encompassing love, if you’ve never felt anything like it.

Nuts and bolts on the other hand are a totally different kind of thing. You don’t have to travel to different dimensions through wormholes to write about them. Obviously you weren’t around when heads were rolling off the guillotine in France, or when the west was wild, or when Atlantis sank beneath the waves. Science fiction writers should research scientific facts and theoretical physics to write about warp drives and multiple universes if they aren’t going to raise the brows of die-hard fans of the genre. When writing a story in a specific historical era, again research is an absolute must if you don’t want a glaring blooper to jar your readers away from reading it. Even if your tale is fantasy, where you really do get to make it all up, a little research could make all the difference. I use a lot of mysterious ancient sites on Earth, and myths and legends in my stories, because I find them fascinating and so do many other people. For me, a little bit of fact makes fiction much more fun to read, and all stories have to be credible within their genre if I’m going to stay absorbed. French_Revolution-1792-8-10_w Image Credit: Wiki Commons

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26 thoughts on “Research”

  1. in my first novel, I had a few chapters located in South America, particularly in Chile… one reader from Chile asked when was the last time I had been there, as very thing was so familiar and recognisable to him… I’ve never been to South America, let alone to the Atacama desert in Chile, but it was all available at the touch of a button on Google! 🙂

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  2. Love Google! No more slogging to libraries – although that’s fun too. I had a friend who set her novel on an island off the Australian coast, and she was spot on with her research too. Reading her book took me to Australia. 🙂

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  3. That is so true. Writing what you know is pretty comfy. But writing what you don’t know is a pleasant challenge and the opportunity to discover something you don’t know about yourself and your ability to travel. I while discovered on my historical fiction novel. I never imagined I could write that kind of genre. I thought it was for the history buffs. I am using a lot of facts and real people in it but the most wonderful thing is that history always leaves those gaps in between which make it a rich repository of ideas or narratives for a writer to play with. The best thing about research is that it sometimes throws up things that you may never have imagined and you can mine that for what it is worth.

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    1. *…the most wonderful thing is that history always leaves those gaps in between which make it a rich repository of ideas or narratives…* That is such a wonderful way to put it. The real writer doesn’t need to be constricted to his surroundings anymore, and the writer who does the work can write a story anywhere and anywhen without the reader knowing where they are till they have a look at their bio. I’m SO with you on the unexpected gems that pop up – I’ve found so many amazing things totally unrelated to what I was looking for at the time, but amazing fodder for something else.

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      1. Yes, it is. Imagination is the writers greatest asset. You can have the best research you can buy but if you lack the imagination it is meaningless because only 10% of the research will be visible, the rest 90% will be submerged under the surface of the text and no one knows its there but the writer. So a writer should never be constricted by his surroundings. You are so right research provides fodder for so much other stuff.

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  4. Great post and the comments are also fantastic. It’s true that now research is not painstaking as it was in the past. But you can also get easily distracted and spend hours and hours but…Maybe that’s also the beauty of it!

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    1. Thanks Olga! That distraction is a problem for me too – sometimes it’s not easy to go back to work when I REALLY want to click on link after link. All problems are forgotten when you’re knee deep in research. 🙂

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  5. Loved this post, Jo, as it’s so important to know what you write about. Many a time I have put a novel down because facts were not correct and I lost interest very quickly. As you say, we have the whole world at our fingertips with the likes of google, etc, and taking an hour or so to do the research can be all the difference between success and failure.

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  6. With the internet research is at your fingertips. And with a writer’s imagination you can become a part of the scene through your characters. Every fact doesn’t have to be exact– in fact many novelist move rivers and places to suit the story, but you do have to dig a bit deeper to make it seem real. Great post!

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  7. Thanks Jo, this was a really interesting post, well written as well. Certainly research is a lot easier now than when writing in the last century, but one has to be careful with information on the internet, just as with information in books, newspapers and periodicals, as there are lots of incorrect information out there as well as the good. As a research librarian over the past 30 years I have helped with the research for many books, and have given people information, that has lead to the writing and publication of several books. Now all these years later I am actually at last researching and writing a novel of my own! 🙂 . Thanks for all the likes, and for following my blog, best wishes and blessings, Charles.

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  8. Thanks Charles! Being a research librarian sounds like such a fascinating job, and with that kind of background your novel will be spot on. Love your posts – I lived in Cape Town for many years (Kalk Bay) so it’s wonderful to read about my old home. 🙂

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