Research – Is it Important?

As I’ve said before I’ve been writing seriously 10 years, before that I dabbled. My high school teachers would go into shock if they were to discover I’m a published writer now. Back in the day (mid-80’s) when I was a student I hated writing. Don’t ask why because even I don’t have a clue. Perhaps, it was because I was required to write for my classes. Now I write because I want to write, not because someone tells me I have too.

I started out writing seriously when I discovered fan-fiction after purchasing my first computer. Well, I didn’t exactly discover it. I’d been aware of it, but the discovery of the internet opened my eyes to the possibilities. I started out writing fan-fiction in The X-Files fandom and I always leaned towards writing more adult themes. Yes, I wrote what the Fandom community calls Gen-fic which is fiction without a sexual pairing. Even then in the beginning I was a research nut. To write in Fandom and offer out your work is to invite the masses that lurk on the internet to critique your work without a formal invitation.

Part of writing in Fandom is making sure you a) can take the critique without breaking down in tears and b) you know your Fandom’s canon down to the most minute detail. If there is one thing that Fandom offers a budding writer is the a critical eye that can be described as being  a bug under a microscope.

It was as one of these bugs that I honed my craft. Unlike most of these budding writers I refused to have what they call a Beta which is basically a fandom editor. In my opinion if I were going to learn anything I needed to do it on my own. I’m a stubborn woman who has a huge dose of Irish and German running through my blood with a wee bit of Cherokee. My mom used to say that I had a head that was half-block, half-brick, and it would take a sledge hammer to get through to me. I cherish my hard head because honestly if it weren’t for it I might not be sitting here yammering at you as if I have a bloody clue what I’m talking about. *laughs*

The Librarian - Boris Vallejo

The Librarian - Boris Vallejo

I digress though. Back to the subject in question. My first thought was to keep the blood thirsty detail oriented fans off my ass was to make sure of the details whether it was canon or things that I brought into my stories; towns, streets, vegetation (yes vegetation), and anything else you could possibly think of.

Learning how to research wasn’t that difficult and I also learned that I loved to do it. Over the years I’ve met a few writers who hate doing the research. This to me boggles the mind. Hate research? How could anyone hate research? Okay, maybe I’m just weird, but I love writing and to me research is a huge part of that. Trust me if you screw up some one will tell you. So, why risk getting the detailers on your ass when you could easily do a little research? Hell, as most of us in the publishing community know any decent editor is one of these detailers and they will call bullshit if they smell it. If you put in the time and effort on research in the beginning it is less likely that rewrites will be a huge pain in the ass. (Have you noticed I love the word ass?)

One of my friends early on crowned me The Google Queen because she swore that I could find anything on Google in 60-seconds flat. I wouldn’t go that far, but Google and I have become wonderful friends. In this day in age research is fairly simple in my opinion. Back when I was in high school (again this was the early-mid 80’s) doing research for an assignment meant hanging out in the eerie silence of the stacks, digging through newspapers, books, and micro-fiche. In my senior year I took a class called Western Cultures. My teacher, Mr. Cheek (yes that was his name), required that we pick a country in Europe from a list, and create a notebook that was worth 50% of our grade. As most high-school students are apt to do my fellow students grabbed the easiest countries. I on the other hand chose Romania which Mr. Cheek believed was extremely difficult since this was back before the Iron Curtain dropped. I could have cared less about that considering that Romania was where Transylvania was and by the gods that was where Bram Stoker found his inspiration for Dracula. Yeah, I’ve been a vampire aficionado since I was a wee-one.

To make a long story short (too late!) I passed that class with flying colors and Mr. Cheek praised my research abilities. Of course the rest of my class was pissed that I showed them up by picking a place like Romania and getting the highest grade. Fucked up that curve for everyone–didn’t I? Guess I’ve always been a research geek, I just didn’t realize it.

My entire point is that as a writer, research is an essential skill in my humble opinion. Even if you write paranormal, science fiction, or fantasy you must be able to present a world that makes sense on a basic level. To do that you must do your research. Trust me all writers do research. I grant you that writers who’ve hit the big time more than likely have personal assistants who do it for them, but the research is still done.

So, as a writer what do you think or feel about research? As a reader do you believe that research is essential to a good story? I’d love to here your opinions.

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12 comments on “Research – Is it Important?

  1. As a reader I’m rather anal about the things which distract from the story itself,so if something doesn’t fit,make sense or seems improbable it takes away from the entire read. It also tends to make it less likely that I buy another book written by that author. Even when written in futuristic,fantasy,etc. we tend to want something that “fits” or would seem probable with the science we are familiar with. The one exception I have with that is the vampiric and shifter realms as there it is pure wishful dreaming on our parts and escapism for most of us (let’s face it,in today’s woorld we need it sometimes). However my biggest gripe is in making it “correct” if it’s written historically…. by that I mean keeping it all in the same eras and time periods. Have you figured out that I’m in favor of the research yet?

    • I’m rather anal myself as a writer and I believe that is directly related to myself as a reader. Before I ever wrote I was a voracious reader and for me the details made the story. I recall reading a vampire novel set in St. Louis where I live. It was apparent to me the writer had never been to St. Louis and also that the writer found it unnecessary to even make an effort towards knowing the city he was writing about. To me that was a huge disappointment.

      Quite a few years later I wrote a fan-fiction (where I started honing my skills as a writer) that was set in Chicago. I’d only been to Chicago once for a weekend and knew very little about the city. As I wrote the story I delved into the history, the layout, and even the weather of Chicago. When I posted the story I had people who commented by asking me if I lived in Chicago. When I told them no they were amazed that I’d gotten all the details right. That’s the kind of reaction I love.

      Details are what separate the beginners from the seasoned writers. I’m still carving my niche out in e-publishing and with every story I write I learn more and improve my skills. Maybe one of these days I’ll see my name on the NY Times bestseller list. If I do I know research helped me get there.

  2. I’m a research nut, and although I don’t obsess over including every detail I find, I like to get them right. I’m also careful as an editor, to keep an eye on the details, the continuity points, the historical stuff. If I’m not sure, I’ll query. I absolutly hate reading scenes where the details are wrong, it throws me straight out of a story.

    If you don’t want to do research, stick to what you know! (And please, don’t imagine you’re qualified to write fantasy, sword fights written by people who have never held swords are just agony).

    • Yeah, we definitely have something in common, although I imagine I’m more on the nut side than you are. 🙂

      My editor recently caught something that even I didn’t in my last release. I ended up having to rewrite a scene between two of the characters who were on a plane because I had them using cell phones in-flight which is a huge legal no-no. Now in the big scheme of things this might seem a minute detail, but I was writing a contemporary mystery/thriller. I couldn’t believe I’d missed that one.

      She and I work so well together that it’s scary sometimes. I swear she’s peering into my brain most days when she’s working on one of my manuscripts. I know she appreciates my eye for detail as I appreciate all the hard work she does to make sure I put my best foot forward.

  3. As a reader, I think research can make or break a story. No matter how good the concept, if the facts are wrong or illogical, it takes away from the story.

  4. Thank you for the comment. I feel the same way as a writer. The worlds I create need that balance of detail to draw the reader in. With every story I write I put my best effort forward and I hope those who read my work appreciate the effort I put into making it work. 🙂

  5. Most of my fiction is emotion based so it doesn’t require the same amount of research that say a historical novel or a crime thriller does. However, I think just about any story requires at least some minimal research to lend it authenticity. Sometimes I need to check out a detail, a date, a physical description of something, or for example if a character suffers an accident I like to make sure that the symptoms I describe are accurate and that I get all the details right. My best compliment came from a doctor who once wrote to congratulate me on writing a believable description of someone suffering a ruptured spleen in a car accident. She said she read so many stories where the writer just didn’t bother to get the medical details right. So, yes, research is important and does pay off. 🙂

    • Having a doctor tell you that you got it right must have made you proud. I had the same experience before I was published except in my case it was writing about a city I knew practically zilch about. I did extensive research on the city and the time period that a part of the story took place in. I had so many people who thought I lived in the city after they read my story and I was proud as punch. 🙂

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. Not to mention sharing such a wonderful experience.

  6. Ah, research. I can lose so much time researching the smallest thing, because that one thing leads me to another thing, and then another…

    But yes, I think research is important. Sometimes I like it and sometimes I don’t, but I always do it when I’m writing about something I’m not familiar with. As a reader, I hate to see incorrect historical details, wrong information on cities I’m familiar with, etc. I try not to do that myself (which is why I often write about places I’ve been and things I’m at least slightly familiar with–did I mention I can be lazy?)

    • I’ve been know to lose chunks of time myself while researching, especially if it’s an unfamiliar subject. Glad I’m not the only one. *chuckles*

      My dedication to research was born from the reader in me. When I was younger I had a bit of the editor in me as well. Seeing stories where it was so painfully obvious that the writer did 0% research made me swear if I ever got there that I would not disappoint a reader in that department. I’m not perfect, but try my damn best to reach for that peak. My editor helps by being the hooks that hold the rope in place.

  7. Research matters. As a reader, I don’t get thrown out of a story by minor things (slightly modernized language, for instance–I don’t expect a book set in Chaucer’s era to read like the Canterbury Tales), but it does bother me if a writer hasn’t thought things through. Zippers in Regency attire, computer-age slang from steam-era characters… Mistakes are like speed bumps, and too many of them will make the road too bumpy to continue. This is probably why I don’t read much in the ‘futuristic’ genre–I like the sort of science fiction written by Lois McMaster Bujold, whose science is as good as (and intrinsic to) her fiction.

    Historical is a lot like sci-fi… it’s recreating an ‘alien’ culture, if you will, rather than creating one, but it’s the same principle–writing a setting in which the emotional content is something that readers can identify with, in circumstances that surprise them and maybe teach them something new. This is why I really dislike ‘wallpaper’ historicals. The differences really matter. Travel over 20 miles, for instance, would probably mean an overnight stay at the very least. No television. No telephone. No recorded music! These are massive differences.

    As a writer, I enjoy research. I don’t write to extreme detail (one reviewer, for instance, took me to task because I didn’t set my stories on an actual ship of the era) because I write what I guess could be called plausible alternate-universe stories. We don’t have much in the way of records of same-sex relationships in the Age of Sail, because when these men were caught, they were executed, and I’m writing what-if stories about couples who were careful and lucky enough to stay under the radar. But trying to make the setting real… well, if you aren’t going to do the research, why bother?

    • I never looked at Sci-Fi in that context before. Now that you mention it though it makes perfect sense.

      Alternate-reality or what if worlds shouldn’t be taken to task such as you reader did with you. The whole point of those is obvious or at least to me they are. Those are stories told in worlds where one simple thing can be a deciding factor on just how much research you need to do.

      Thanks for commenting. It was eye opening. 🙂

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