Research for Fiction Writing?

Surely, you only need to do research when you’re writing non-fiction or academic work, to ensure what you are saying is correct, and also to quote?

No, you also often need to research when writing fiction.

Now, if people follow the adage of writing what they know, they shouldn’t need to research, because they know it all. Right?

Not if they are going to write a well-rounded story, that sometimes involves characters and situations that they have no knowledge about. At this point they are going to have to research.

What does research actually mean in terms of fiction writing?

Does it mean sitting sifting through loads of books? 

Not necessarily, although reading something of a similar vein may give you some insight into what you don’t know.

Research can be:

  • Talking to friends you know who have the knowledge in the area you are looking for.
  • Searching on the internet in secure and trusted sites, where you know the information is true, rather than conspiracy theories.
  • Using Google Maps to look at places, and even use street view to look around.
  • Paying an expert for their time to talk through what you need to know.
  • Going to your local library or further afield to search through archives.

Why is research necessary?

 When writing a novel based in modern day, although it is fiction, from your imagination, there are aspects that also need to be possible in reality.  Unless you are writing a fantasy or sci-fi novel – although the latter, most people like to write about things that are possibly scientifically, or could be.  Asimov, Philip K Dick and Arthur C Clarke are three examples of sci – fi authors whose ideas in stories they have written are now becoming fact, rather than just fiction.

Also, if you write historical novels, you need to know your history of the time, otherwise readers will pull-you-up, soon telling you that things weren’t like that.

In my first novel, He is Not Worthy, I was able to write about working in education because I did that for some 34 years. However, I did talk to a young friend who had recently done ‘A’ Level art exams. Even though I studied art at A level myself in the 70s, the exam system has changed drastically since I was a teenager.

I had a scene where someone was arrested, so I needed to know about police procedure – an ex-policeman helped.

Also, one of my main characters was a stalker, so I talked to someone studying Psychology, to find out more about the traits they exhibit.

Is research best done before writing?

I’m sure this is different for people, but I’d generally say, yes.

The research for the novel I’m now working on (working title; ‘The Sinking’), had to be done before I started writing as, otherwise I would have had to make huge changes to my plot line.

An example being -my story starts in 1915, but is mostly set in 2018. One plot point I’d decided on was, my antagonist was a Fascist, but then I found out that Fascism didn’t exist until 1919, after WW1.  The words fascism and fascist are related directly to Mussolini’s regime and its philosophy, although fascisti and fasces (Italian words) preceded him. Discovering this meant I had to rethink quite a bit of my plot line around that particular character.

Next week: Moving blocks in writing