Sunday Q&A: Writing Research

posted in: Various Musings | 0

How much research do you do for your books?

When I was working on my first graduate degree, one of my first professors told me I was a “scholar and a researcher.” I can’t tell you how proud that made me, because I work hard when I write. Sure, there’s a huge difference between an academic paper and a work of fiction, but the work in putting them together is sometimes similar…at least, in my case.

I was recently asked by one of my blogger friends if I’d researched something I’d talked about in the book of mine she’d just read. My answer was “Absolutely!” I research a lot when I’m writing. Sometimes, my research is minimal (like looking up the way a company spells its name to make sure I’ve got it right in my book), but other times, I have to do a lot of digging, especially if I’m dealing with something I’m not as familiar with.

Let me be clear: research is important.

It might be more important to me than to other authors, because authenticity means a lot to me. If something feels fake, you’ve lost me (as a reader or a viewer). I have to be absorbed by the story, and it’s only possible if I can believe (or suspend my disbelief)—I must believe the scenario is likely—and that’s why I feel like research is necessary.

My husband and I watched a movie a few years back, one he’d been looking forward to for a long time. It was quickly ruined by its lack of credibility, at least in our case. Part of the story was set in Gunnison, Colorado—the place where he and I met and lived years and years ago. We were able to “let go of” the fact that the setting in the movie didn’t look like Gunnison. We understand that filming can’t always take place in the exact right location. But then, when the movie had Gunnison and Colorado Springs half an hour apart, they completely lost us. Maybe they appear to be that close on a map, but the two are a good three hours apart (if the weather cooperates), and you have the Continental Divide separating the two to boot! That lack of knowledge—which could have been corrected with a minimal amount of research (Google Maps, for heaven’s sake!)—ruined the story for me, and there was no getting me back.

Research can be done in a number of ways. Sometimes I ask readers questions (I did for Feverish and Savage and even Bullet—and I acknowledge those answers in the back of the book, because asking questions of people who know often gives better information than looking something up online), but a lot of times I do conduct research online.

I prefer to do what Stephen King advocates—that is, writing what I know—but that’s not always possible. When it’s not, I research. So, to answer the question, I research as much as I need to, and the amount of research varies from book to book.

Got a question for me? Post it in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer it either here or in a future post!

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