It makes sense that anyone writing a non-fiction work would do extensive research on the topic they are writing about. What not everyone may be aware of is the fact that even fiction writers have to do their fair share of research when working on a novel. The entire novel may be completely fictional and based entirely in the realm of fantasy, but that doesn’t negate the need to do research.
Why Research is Important
Even the most fantastical tale must have some believability to it. Otherwise, your readers will get pulled out of the story you are trying to immerse them in. If you solve every impossible nuance in a story by simply explaining it away with magic, then your readers will eventually be unable to suspend their disbelief.
This is why many fantasy stories include limitations for magic users. Omnipotent characters are ultimately boring unless they have some flaw (and therefore prove not to be omnipotent). Take, for example, the character of Q in Star Trek. He is in many ways like a god, having the power literally do anything he wants. Yet, for his vast powers and millennia of existence, he isn’t much more than a petulant child. That is his fundamental flaw and his ultimate undoing every time he appears in the Star Trek universe. Without that flaw, he’d be boring to write. Research would play a role in writing that vulnerability in a believable way. It would require researching areas of psychiatry and psychology and have a fundamental understanding of how a mind like that might work and what would lead to his downfall because of it.
Outside of the realm of fantasy, research plays an even greater role. In science-fiction, no matter how far in the future you go, the science has to make sense based on what we know and understand regarding science today. Some people may be able to gloss over a detail here or there that isn’t feasible. However, most people will eventually start to question it, especially if there are inconsistencies in the science that’s presented. This will again draw the reader out of the story, which isn’t something you want to do.
The very same thing is important even regarding other genres like mysteries, period dramas, or romance novels. Each will have their own niche that will require research, whether it is the correct setting and language in a period piece or the fundamentals of describing a kiss in a romance. Bottom line, a writer must do their research and make sure what they’re writing about is accurate and believable, regardless of the genre they’re writing in.
Knowing that research is important is one thing. Understanding how to do it may be quite another. I’ve met numerous fledging writers that don’t have the slightest clue how to research, despite all the resources we all have at our fingertips. Here are a few tips based on how I conduct my research on the stories I write.
- Google is your friend. Seriously, I don’t know why so many people don’t try searching on Google as their first option. Do you need to know what types of clothes people wore in 15th century France? Google it! There are numerous historical websites, and if you check out the image gallery on Google, you will find a lot of paintings from the period showing exactly what people wore during that period.
- Talk to Experts. There are forums and social media groups filled with people who know things. Some may even drink wine, and not all of them are named Tyrion. If you can’t find the answer to your question through Google, join a relevant group and ask someone.
- Verify Your Sources. Don’t base your entire research on a single source. Double check by going to multiple sources. Even after you talk to a supposed expert, try to double check what they’ve told you through Google or some other source. If you just go with what you’ve read from the first link you may be missing important nuances or exceptions. It’s best to always use at least two or more sources, just to be sure what you’ve learned is accurate.
So if you’re a writer, don’t forget to do your research before you submit your work to publication. I guarantee if you haven’t, someone will pick up on it and it may affect your ability to land a publishing deal. If you decide to self-publish, readers will pick up on it and leave negative reviews. In the end, it’s not worth taking the extra time to make sure what you write about is accurate and believable.