Is Research Necessary? by Rebekah R. Ganiere
When I think of doing research the first thing that springs to mind is a historical novel. But I have learn in writing a dystopian series as well as sci-fi that research can be necessary for just about anything you write.
You hear people say all the time, “write what you know.” But what if you want to write about a sword wielding vampire? Are you a sword wielding vampire? Maybe, but probably not. So how do you write about them?
Or how about the fact that you live in Massachusetts and you want to write about Montana, but you’ve never even been to Montana. How do you do that? Or what if you want to write about a Hollywood Starlet or BDSM or Norse Gods?
The answer is simple. Research.
You have to do research in just about every book you write, unless you are writing exactly what you know. I live in California and even I had to do a few minutes of research when I wanted my characters to meet in downtown Los Angeles. I drive to downtown on a weekly basis. But I don’t drive from the 10 to Hollywood Blvd in rush hour all the time. So I had to research how long that would take. Research is inherent to your writing unless you are making everything up yourself.
So if you are going to research where do you start? How far do you go? How much do you use? When do you stop?
Well, how do you know if you need to research? If you don’t know something, you need to research it. That is, if you want to be accurate. If you don’t know the name of the Chinese dynasty from the third century, find out. If you don’t know the proper street names of the business district in Chicago, research it. If you don’t know the difference between a parry and a thrust in a sword fight, find out.
Yes, there are times you can try to fudge it, but unless you are creating your own world then I don’t recommend it. And you can never fudge it in a historical. They will crucify you. Same with science in a hard core Sci-Fi novel. Don’t even try.
So, now we know we need to research, the question is: Where do we go for the info? Yes, the internet is certainly easy to access and there are thousands of websites to choose from, but you need to vet your sources to make sure they are correct. Just because you google it doesn’t mean it’s true.
When I wanted to incorporate Tesla into one of my stories I first read about him on the internet. Then I went to the library and checked out half a dozen books on him. A library is a great place to get information. Google professors who know about what you are looking up and ask them. Ask on your RWA boards for help. There are dozens of places you can go for help if you just look.
But you need to be careful. I know many authors who research for years and never get their novel finished because of it. Sometimes it is hard to remember that research is there to help you with your novel. Not to become your primary focus.
Lastly, how much do you use in your novel? That’s up to you but I would say for all of the research you do you probably won’t use a tenth of it. And that’s okay. It’s you as an author who needs to know it.
For me, I need to know how to swordplay for my Fairelle series. I have done extensive research on weapons and fencing and battles and injuries and armor. Now you won’t learn about the armor my hero puts on, or how he ties every tie or the buckles he can’t reach that his manservant has to help him with. But you will read my fight scenes and see how realistic they are. You’ll read about the swords they use and not think, “There’s no way she could lift that.” When my guys get injured, it’s realistic. All because of my research. You won’t know why it’s so real, you’ll just know that it isn’t fake.
And that’s what we are going for as a writer and why we do our research. To suspend disbelief in our readers. Anything less with pull them out of the story and possibly write a scathing review about how poorly it was written.
Personally, research is not my favorite thing to do, but I do it to be better. I do it to write better and I do it for my characters. Because in the end, they will kick my butt if I make them look bad.