I discussed in a previous post the way I go about constructing a story and manuscript. Today I want to discuss, a little more in depth, one of those steps I mentioned: research.
I am pretty intense with the amount of research I do for my writing. I have dozens and dozens of word documents and pictures for every project I undertake. The information I gather ranges from how fast and far horses can travel in a day to how long it takes somebody to die for particular kinds of wounds/injuries to how many floors there are in the Empire State Building to exactly how long the Santa Monica Boardwalk is. Trivial facts all the way to story integral facts are all compiled in my research.
Every writer researches differently, we all approach the information we need for our stories differently and we all feel comfortable with different levels of factual story telling.
I’m particular. I like to know everything about whatever I might be writing about, even if I intend to take creative license and stretch the truth (i.e. the legal system in the Fragile Love series. I know as much as I need to know and then I choose to ignore some things for the sake of telling my story the way I want to tell it). My current WIP is set in 2015 so I bring up the past weather on Time and Date to make sure it’s truthful. I even go so far as to find images of people who look like my characters, and go onto real estate websites and find homes for them to live in.
My current favourite is Augustus’ penthouse apartment in Manhattan. I found it for sale for $78 million USD and decided it practically screams my MC. It has three floors and a private terrace, garden, and pool.
And a funny story about me finding photos of people, I found a model and thought ‘this looks like Augustus but now I need to find someone who looks as similar as possible for his twin’. So I searched and I found another blond model with a chiselled jaw line and was like ‘yes, they look similar enough’. Then when I looked at them side by side: the same model, just different photo shoots. I am an idiot sometimes, still I’ve kept both photos, they are identical twins after all.
So, why do I go to that over the top level of research?
– It lends a level of authenticity to my work that is satisfying. I enjoy reading something I’ve written and knowing that I’ve put in the effort to make it real, even if nobody else knows how much effort I have gone to.
– I don’t like to seem unknowledgeable. My dad, when I was starting out trying to become a writer, always told me that you either have to be very informative or vague, there is no in between. He says as soon as you name something for what it is, you need to know what you’re talking about. For example, you can say your character gets into ‘their car’ and you don’t need any specific information, but as soon as you say they get into a ‘1967 Chevrolet Impala’ you need to know what that car can do, what its interior looks like, what the engine sounds like etc. because somebody out there will know all of that stuff and they will pick at the mistakes you make. Being generic saves you from those mistakes, but I like to be descriptive, ergo, I research everything.
– In the case of world building for fantasy or sci-fi, having some underlying truths allows people to suspend their disbelief more easily when becoming enriched in the world you create. I mentioned above that I have researched how far and fast horses can travel. I did this so I could accurately plot a timeline for a fantasy book series, knowing exactly how long it takes my characters to move from A to B, helps me create a realistic map of my world, and it helps with the timeline of my plot. All three things interconnect and so without that information, the rest of it falls to crap. And for sci-fi, if you have some underlying scientific fact to your made up science, it becomes a little more realistic and cooler (in my opinion as a sci-fi geek and science lover, that is).
– It’s honestly just a good writing practice. I know some people don’t like to research, and that’s their prerogative, but personally, as a reader, I am pulled out of the story when I pick up on an error. I studied psychology at uni until I realised I didn’t want to be a psychologist but a leftover quirk from my time studying it is that I hate, hate, hate when people incorrectly use the terms ‘positive reinforcement’ and ‘negative reinforcement’, mixing them up with ‘positive punishment’ and/or ‘negative punishment’. The lack of understanding on the part of writers who use those terms irks me and makes it hard for me to focus on the story. Some people might say that’s nitpicking, but it honestly jerks me out of my state of enjoyment and straight into ‘why don’t people research before they write?’. So, I try to avoid undertaking my own pet peeve. If I talk the talk, I should walk the walk, as an old principal of mine was fond of saying.
I don’t believe everybody needs to undertake my intensely crazy level of research. Nobody needs dozens of photos of sword blades and pages upon pages of information on how to fight with those different swords. Or the entire catalogue of personality profiles and information from the 16 Personalities website. Not everybody wants to know what Hogwarts house your characters would be in (or what their wand would be). Not everybody needs six books on Celtic and Pagan funeral rites and other ceremonies. This is my personal way of approaching research for my writing.
I do, however, believe that researching before you write is good writing. I think it makes you a stronger writer and I highly encourage everybody to at least do the bare minimum required for your project. Don’t fall into that annoying pitfall of saying your character has a revolver and then making them do something with it that is impossible.
Research is your friend, is the moral of this story. Plus it gives you hilarious internet history. All of the people spying on my browsing habits probably think I’m a serial killer at this point. Also, I really want somebody to look at my browser right now because it’s filled with links to BDSM online shops where I was looking at all the different toys and equipment you can buy for an at-home play room. Why? Well, you’ll have to stay tuned to find out.
Wednesday’s blog post will be looking at world building and how to create an realistic, complex world for your story to take place in.
Have a lovely day, sweethearts!