This article is based on a presentation I gave about the importance of research for writers and will be published in four parts. Examples from my own research for my three published books and my current project (the biography of Berenice Walters, the Dingo Lady) are in blue.
Most people would agree research is essential for non-fiction work. It is obvious you must have your facts straight or you lose all credibility.
Is it enough to simply check facts?
Is it necessary for fictional work?
Non-fiction must also hold the reader’s interest. That means building your background images as much as presenting facts and developing the personalities of the characters.
In the case of fiction, readers need clear images of time and place so you will need research to paint clear and accurate word pictures.
In the biography I am writing, Berenice grew up during the Great Depression and World War II. I needed to include additional information about life in Australia about that period so younger readers have a clear idea of time and place. That meant doing my research.
In her recount of her trip to Germany in 1987 she recalls her experience of passing through Checkpoint Charlie. It wasn’t until my third reading of her story I realised there is a whole generation (or two) that may not be aware of the Berlin Wall and the division of Germany. To clarify t for those readers I have included a brief explanation.
What information needs to be researched?
Here are some points you should consider for your story.
Facts – getting your facts wrong will destroy your credibility as a writer. Check and double check your facts.
Images – the graphics and images you build with your words. This applies to scenery, fashion, transport, architecture etc
Location history and industry – you can’t put a space age industry in a 1925 cotton farming district - unless you are writing science fiction. If your location has an outstanding historical feature or relies on a specific industry you should also be familiar with relevant facts.
Writing science fiction? Having made my previous point, and this is far from my field of expertise, don’t think you can avoid research. It may have come from your imagination, but many sci-fi readers are also science geeks, so you better bone up on current scientific advancements, research, and innovation.