Thursday, 5 April 2012

Thursday Thought: Research

I'm in the process of rewriting and editing my novel for the fourth or fifth time? I'm not really sure, I've lost count. The difference this time is that it's because an agent is interested in my novel, before it's always been for university tutors, markers or workshops. So, I'm also going back and re-doing research to make sure that my setting feels authentic. So that readers aren't going to turn to me and ask "how" or "why" questions, or, even worse, turn around and say "that wouldn't work" or "that would never happen". I'm also changing my setting somewhat so that requires some new research.

But how important is research? Writers will tell you all sorts of things because it largely depends on what you're writing. My story relies heavily on research because of the plot and setting, but other stories might not. It also depends on whether it's a fantasy setting, therefore you can make up large chunks as long as it makes sense, or if you've really been there. If it's semi-autobiographical (or entirely autobiographical) then you've probably done a lot of the research without even realising and simply know it.

Some people hate research. Personally I love it. Sure it can be confusing and time consuming but I just love learning about things so I find it fun. But I'd still rather be writing. 

The biggest issue with research, I think, is that you don't actually use a lot of it but you still need to know it. It can be disheartening but you still don't want to cram in all that information, you need to know it so you can construct a believable world, characters and plot but you don't need to tell the reader everything, that would just be boring.

I'm torn when it comes to first-hand research. While I think it's always fantastic to be able to actually go somewhere and experience the place, or to actually do something your character does, it's not possible for everyone. I can't afford to go jetting off around the world. I also don't want to skin a rabbit, even though my character does. So instead I have to rely on reading about it, watching videos or talking to people. Then it's just down to how well you can write about it. But if you can go somewhere, then do. There's nothing like really being somewhere and experiencing it first-hand.

Mistakes will happen. You can't research everything. If you did then you would never actually write anything. So don't beat yourself up about it, hopefully someone will point it out before it goes to print so you can fix it. If not then you'll just have to deal with it. Also remember that you can't please everyone, there will always be someone who finds a flaw in your writing and points it out, don't let it get to you. Lucy Christopher refers to the camel in Stolen as having hooves and she's had lots of people tell her that they have toes, which she is aware of. How does she react? She doesn't really, at the most she agrees with them because camels do have toes. If she wanted to be pedantic she could point out that camels are 'cloven-hoofed' animals. But she doesn't. Which is really the best way to deal with it. It's always better to keep your dignity.

When it comes to research you need to do your best. You shouldn't try to cover up holes though and use short-cuts, that's just lazy and readers will notice. So do your research, do it carefully and do it well. But make sure that you actually write something as well and put that research to good use! 

I think the best novels do not give the impression that the writer did any research at all, you shouldn't be able to tell, you should simply believe in the words on the page.

Now, get back to work!

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