So you have the title, the plot, the names of the characters and you’re furiously writing down that one story that you always wanted to write – the murder mystery in the Alps… but wait, you don’t even know what the Alps look like!
You research through the ubiquitous-online-hoard-of-information – Google – about the beautiful mountain range that has inspired poetry, prose and art for so many years, and then realise that there’s quite a lot you don’t know about the Alps, except that they’re in Europe. Then you come to realise that you will need to decide a place where the murder takes place (like a city or a town or a hovel), you need a map that shows you the major roads and the most important landmarks in that city/town/hovel (because you’d like readers to feel like they are in the Alps), you need to know the language, the culture, the customs…. oh, there’s so much you need to know to make that story credible. To top it all, you’re from halfway across the globe and have never seen snow in your entire life!
What do you do now? Stop writing the story?
My friends, this week on The Perfectly Imperfect Bunch Blog we are covering ‘The Importance of Research for Fiction Writers’.
At the very outset, I’d like to inform the reader that researching for academic papers and researching for fiction writing are two different forms of research, so if you are looking for scholarly research tips, this is not the article for you.
Coming back to fiction writing, I have always believed that writing, like other art forms, is a collective legacy of humanity. Our forefathers have written before us, and chances are whatever you may be wanting to write about, has already been written about out there. So, why not benefit from this collective legacy and understand the craft you want to master? Which is why reading is the starting point of every research for fiction writing.
But why research at all? You’re writing fiction after all which means imaginary. You can imagine and write anything you like. You have Creative License… dun, dun, dun!
Yes, fiction is imaginary but it can still appear credible and real, especially when you’re writing for a genre that deals with life-like incidents or people or circumstances. Sure you can get away with twisting a fact and taking cover behind Creative or Artistic License and a lot of writers do that at some point in their books, but a good writer will never lean on it much. Instead, he will suffuse his imaginary concepts with credible and extant research so that it gives an illusion of reality. Good research arms you with important information about your genre and gives credibility to your story. Like J.K. Rowling and her magical world; ever noticed how most of the spells used in her Harry Potter series originate from Latin and Greek? Even most of the monsters and mythical creatures she used in the series have their origins in folklore or previous literature. That’s why that world seems so real to readers because they can relate, to some extent, with the fantasy portrayed in her work.
Where do you start researching?
- Read the classics from your genre.
- Read the best-sellers and the worst books in your genre, to know what you should and should not do.
- Read everything else that is even remotely important for your genre/story.
But these are just the broad rules for researching for fiction writing.
When you have a plot and you know roughly the time, the place and people who populate your story, the starting point of your research becomes those little details that give credibility to your characters and to your story.
When you use credible and existing information to shape your story and your characters, it makes your story look believable which, even if it has elements of fantasy, appears to be strongly grounded in reality. Because if you don’t, you run the risk of making your story look flippant and childish. There has to be a modicum of truth in even your fiction so that people relate to it. Absolute fantasy and imaginary concepts may become hard to relate to.
For example, if the murder mystery in the Alps has a retired school teacher and self-proclaimed local vigilante as the protagonist of the story (or the killer, if you like) then you could begin your research with the subjects he taught, school life in general, retirement issues, old age problems, weaponry or martial arts (if he uses a specific type of weapon/martial arts), local laws and police procedures, local language and customs, and read extensively on the psychology of psychopaths and their victims.
Invest In Good Research Mediums and Resources
The following are the most common mediums of research –
- Books and Libraries
- Travelling to the relevant venues
- Interviews with experts
These days the number one mode of research is the internet, and quite frankly, nothing beats the volume, variety and convenience that the internet offers to researchers. Everything is available on your screen, so researching on general things has become super-easy. I think no one now can make the excuse – I didn’t find much information on this – because there is always something about everything on the internet.
But beware, the internet is often only good for generic research. There are some topics, say classified information, or specialized information, that you may not find on the internt. In such cases, books and interviews become your resources for precise and accurate information. So if you are serious about writing and if you feel that the internet is not giving you relevant answers in your research, join a library, or an e-library that provides information on such topics. Get in touch with the experts who can explain things from the perspective of your book. Of course, experts aren’t that easy to catch hold of, but keep trying. Many are happy to oblige you (unless its sensitive information) if you acknowledge their works and their inputs in your book.
As far as travelling to relevant places is concerned, its a pricey affair, granted. But it gives you hands-on experience that a map and internet photographs won’t be able to provide. Whenever you can, try immersing yourself in that experience that you’re trying to portray in your work. Famous authors have been known to travel to places that featured in their work. They have also been known to paint or keep a sketchbook handy in the time when there were no phones or cameras. Taking the example of the murder mystery in the Alps again, it would help heaps if the author travelled to the Alps, met the people, visited local landmarks himself, ate the local food, mingled with the people there, took pictures to document the information, and then wrote about it because he would then have first-hand information about the place he wants to portray in his story.
A word of caution –
Research has no end to it. It’s like a bottomless pit, that once sucks you in, you keep going deeper in. But a writer’s time is very important because he has only a finite amount of time to write as well as to research… and then there’s editing. Smart researching means that you should collect only as much information as gives lucidity and credibility to your fiction, because you are not writing an academic research paper, you’re writing a novel. Include only as much researched information in your writing as much as is required to make the reader fall for your illusion of reality.
With that, I close this topic and I hope it has been helpful to you. Please leave your comments in the comments section below and please read the articles of the other contributing authors here on TPIB.
Image Source: Mistockshop at Pixabay