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In praise of research

I used to be nervous about any story idea that seemed like it'd require a lot of research. What if I got something wrong!? What if I got too bogged down in the details and never got around to the actual story!?

But the muse is obviously smart. The muse eased me into it gradually. A little research for one element of one book, a little more research to base a society on a pre-existing one for another, a bunch more research to flesh out a society that *did* actually exist in my last WIP... And now I'm hooked. I love research! Research is great!

Three things I love about research:

1. It adds additional depth and resonance to the story. Sure, you can make things up completely from scratch... but if your story draws on or at least echoes existing or historical ideas, you've got all those extra connotations just laid out for you. And even if a reader isn't familiar with the background you're drawing on, I think that sense of "this could be real" comes through--because you as a writer, as you're writing, know you're standing on something much more solid than just your own hand-waving.

2. It can write your story for you. Okay, not your *entire* story. But my favorite part of doing research is when I stumble across some fact that works perfectly with the story I was already thinking of telling, and shows me something I can add to that story, or a way to deal with a problem I was struggling with. Source material can be incredibly inspiring! And it can be rather comforting to be able to answer some of the many questions that inevitably arise, like "what would these people eat?" or "when might such-n-such event happen?", by looking it up instead of having to figure out by yourself what might be plausible.

3. It makes it okay to get things wrong. You know that saying, you can't break the rules until you know them? Research is a lot like that. Once you *know* what people in this sort of culture/setting would normally eat, or when a certain type of event would usually happen, you don't have to use it. If it doesn't fit the story you want to tell, change it! This is fiction, after all. But knowing that you're changing something, that you're going against the research, means that you'll have to come up with good reasons for the change (which'll make your story stronger). Not to mention you'll have a ready excuse should someone accuse you of getting things wrong. ;)

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
joypreble
Dec. 3rd, 2008 03:34 am (UTC)
I'll join you on "team research." Love those tiny details particularly. What was on someone's dresser, or the name of her dog or whatever. Or when I'm using fairy and folk tales (as I've been doing) - finding all this quirky commentary by people who are waaaay amazingly into the whole thing! So yay! to research.
megancrewe
Dec. 4th, 2008 03:06 am (UTC)
Yes! The tiny details make everything so much more fun. :D
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

My Books


Earth & Sky
(Earth & Sky #1, science fiction YA)
Skyscape/Razorbill Canada, 2014


The Clouded Sky
(Earth & Sky #2, science fiction YA)
Skyscape/Razorbill Canada, 2015


A Sky Unbroken
(Earth & Sky #3, science fiction YA)
Skyscape/Razorbill Canada, 2015


The Way We Fall
(Fallen World #1, apocalyptic YA)
Disney-Hyperion, 2012


The Lives We Lost
(Fallen World #2, apocalyptic YA)
Disney-Hyperion, 2013


The Worlds We Make
(Fallen World #3, apocalyptic YA)
Disney-Hyperion, 2014


Those Who Lived: Fallen World Stories
(Fallen World #3.5, apocalyptic YA)
self pubbed, 2014


Give Up the Ghost
(paranormal YA)
Henry Holt, 2009

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