Research for Fiction Writing


Research for Fiction WritingIt wasn’t until the security guard started walking over that David realised he may have given the wrong impression. It’s true that asking one of the museum staff questions about delivery times and CCTV was suspicious. He couldn’t blame them for being concerned. After all, he was planning a crime – a fictional one.

Fiction writing is a careful weaving of reality with imagination. You lure readers into your story with your imagination but you make them stay with believable plots and characters. As with an obvious grammar mistake, a content slip-up can be just as jarring to a reader and call into question the entire integrity of your work. A content problem is either an issue of inconsistences in the manuscript or incorrect content. A good editor can help with the first. The second is reliant on your research.

A good comprehension of your world, its history, human nature, and relevant systems are the most obvious prerequisites for good story telling. For example, you may need to know the correct process for filing a police report, or understand how the foster care system works in practice, or you may want to know career or business specific information.

Perhaps David’s approach may have been a tad suspicious but interviews can be a great research method. Although, we would recommend setting up a proper interview in advance. We know from a writer who was able to interview the police that people can be very willing to help – if you just ask. When you don’t have a first-hand experience hearing from someone who does can offer insights and perspectives that you hadn’t even known to consider.

Research for Fiction WritingDo your research early on. Don’t write based on assumptions or you could be creating serious plot holes in your work. If you have all the information ready when you sit down to write you won’t have to disrupt your flow to look things up. This is one way to help prevent writer’s block.

It’s often the small details that can be overlooked; the appropriate clothes for a certain time and place, a small translation, even accurate travel time. These may not feel particularly important compared to the exciting business of planning plots and character development. However, these details should not be a liability to the credibility of your story, so don’t let them trip you up.

Imagine writing a beautiful historical fiction about a westerner traveling to Japan only to find out once you’ve finished that your premise is impossible because you’d set the story during Japan’s isolation period. It’s easy enough to prevent such mistakes. The internet is a great resource for research. Libraries are also useful. They may even have access to otherwise expensive journal articles and librarians can be very helpful in finding you the right resource. Of course, you should use reputable sources and double check facts.

Research for Fiction WritingIt’s especially important with translations to have a fluent speaker look it over, language is a tricky thing and most translation generators are not reliable. In this case some Facebook writing groups could be an ideal resource. As explored in a previous blog, some of these communities are international and composed of people from a variety of backgrounds and careers with all kinds of knowledge and experiences. These groups can be a great place to start your research.

Although your work is fictional, as a storyteller you’ll often be considered an authority on your chosen subject. How you represent people and cultures in your story will often leave lasting impressions on your readers. It can be far more difficult to amend wrong impressions than incorrect facts. Make sure that the components of your story that are based in reality are accurate. You can write about things you haven’t experienced first-hand, but you shouldn’t write about things you don’t understand. So research is not an obstacle, it’s a building block in the foundations of strong writing.

Do you have any interesting research stories to share? If so comment below or on Facebook or Twitter @FairlightBooks.