Monday, December 29, 2008

Researching - Write what you know

We have all heard the saying that writers should write the things they know about the most. While I agree with this partially, I do want to take it a slightly different direction today. I want to deal with research.

Regardless of the genre you are writing in, you have to have some research under your belt to truly make the world you place your characters in 3-dimensional. What I often find of writers is a serious lack of understanding of the world they are creating. They have just not done enough research for their book.

So, how much research is necessary? Again, there is no fixed answer to this one, but the research needs to be authentic enough to create a world that everyone (and I stress everyone here) will be able to see the setting of the story clearly.

If you talk to great historical writers, they have a firm knowledge of the time they are placing their stories. These authors do not live off of what we call "source books" but authentic research. When I say "source books" I am mostly focusing on books that serve more as an encyclopedia of information (i.e. dates, locations and very brief histories). The authentic research they use are coming from those great historical books that focus exclusively on a single character or time period.

I hear a lot of contemporary writers say they are doing research for their books. In these cases, the writers are trying to do what many actors do. They "spend some time" with the people who do this work and then use that information to create their world. While this apporach is fine at some level, it is often not enough to give a reader a full picture. What we often forget is that when actors do this for roles they play, the movie studies have also provided the director and the rest of the crew with an extensive surplus of research people who told them more of what was going on in that field. Think ER here.

Even in the paranormal realm the research has to be equally as strong. When you think about Tolkein, he created the full world of Middle Earth before he did anything else with the characters and their stories. The end result - great world building that was accessible to all.

The key here is to really know your area before you even start. Here is a twist though. If it takes you that much time to even understand the time period, then you should not be writing in that area (at least not yet). Start with the time periods and genres you know and build from that.

Good luck!

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