Monday, August 22, 2011

Research: Do Your Homework!

We live in a miraculous and amazing world where knowledge is at your fingertips day and night. Where the only thing keeping anyone from learning anything is their own willingness (or lack there of) to learn. With the increase of public education, the availability of libraries and the birth of the internet;  we have the potential to be as intelligent and well-read as we choose. At the same time, this adds an extra burden to creative types. Just as we are no longer restricted to writing based on our own limited experience, our audience is no longer passive and learning only through us. So, when you venture into a novel, you must do research.

I hear the groans already. No one really likes research. (Despite what those non-creatives think as they watch us reading or writing all the time!) And there are plenty of writers who don't do research. But if you want to have quality work that people will love, you need to do research. And don't think that because you have watched CSI since its inception that you can write a crime thriller novel and be good to go. You can certainly use some of the information you have gleaned from the episodes, but make sure you double-check your information with the vast resources at your fingertips. (You can find anything on the internet! It is a little terrifying!)

Now some of you are thinking 'I know! If I write Science Fiction or Fantasy, I can get out of research. After all, they are based on worlds that do not or may never exist.' And if you are thinking that, you should be slapped!

O.k. maybe that was a bit extreme, but I have been an avid Science Fiction and Fantasy reader for a very long time and I don't think I am brave or ambitious enough to write either. (Yet, but I do have a couple of story lines going!) Why? Because we geeks of those genres are even more discerning and... particular... than the average reader. Don't believe me? Check out the thousands of forums devoted to picking to pieces any descent book in either of those genres. We geeks are neurotic.

If you think you want to write Sci-Fi, I suggest that you begin your research as so: take an astronomy class. If you don't know what the Van Allen Belts are, take another one! Make sure you watch every episode of Star Trek written by Gene Roddenberry. The others pretty much leaned on his own genius and research and didn't add much new to the knowledge. (Which is why I stopped watching.) Watch Dr. Who. Then read every  book ever written by Orson  Scott Card, Isaac Asimov, HG Wells, Jules Verne and at least three other famous science fiction authors. Then read A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. And for good measure, check out Through the Wormhole, an interesting TV series based on current science posit. Now see where your plot fits in with all those conflicting theories! Good luck! (And yes, I am currently working through that research list in preparation for my own Science Fiction book...)

As for Fantasy; the world is fiction, but the fans are rigid! You cannot go creating beings willy nilly and expect people to embrace them. You need to be so immersed in the culture as to be able to create a very real-life story while working within the established expectations. For example, if you were to describe an Elf as under four feet with sharp features and pointed ears, reminiscent of Santa's Elves, you might be shot. (That would be a Warrow or a Gelfling people, everyone knows Elves are taller than humans!). On top of that, the readers of such work expect much higher prose than your typical crime thriller.

Don't think you are getting out of research going the paranormal route either. After all, try creating something original within the realms of the past lore. The biggest kickback to the Twilight series was that Vampires sparkled! And Ms. Myers did her research. Her choice of elements to change was... interesting, but she made at least a halfway decent effort to conform her own vampire world with an explanation for the adaptation from societies expectations of Vampires. (Yes, it is there in the first book. Remember Bella looking things up on the internet?!?!? Yup. Research!)

So stop trying to get out of the research and just get to it already! Trust me, there is a lot to do! Make sure you save all of your research so you can refer back to it as often as needed. Then start planning your story. But that is a topic for another post!

Are there any major research snafus in writing  that you would like to discuss? Or perhaps an author that you find particularly authentic because of their excellent research?  Tell us about them in the comments below!!

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  1. yup, yup, yup! all good sources. I'm really enjoying these insights. Keep up the good work!