Friday, June 4, 2010

The Importance of Research

As promised, today's post is on research. Really everything I have to say can be summed up in two words: Do It.

However, I suspect you're looking for a little more than that. So here goes. Why is research so important in fiction? I mean it's not like you're writing a dissertation on quantum physics. You're writing fiction. In fact, you might be writing fiction specifically to avoid research. Sorry to burst your bubble, but research matters, even in fiction. Heck, even in poetry. I recently wrote several poems that I had to do a lot of research for.

Research matters because it goes to your credibility as an author. You're asking people to invest a significant amount of time reading your story and if you can't spend the time to get your facts right, why should they spend their time on you? I am not saying that you need to have an intimate knowledge of the rainforest ecology or cardio-thorasic surgery or whatever you're writing about, but you do need to know enough to get the details right. Which means you're going to have to do some research.

You obvioulsy have access to the internet. Use it. If you can't find what you're looking for there, try your local library. Ask the research librarian for help. She/he would be happy to help. If you're writing about a specific profession, call or email someone in that field. People love to talk about themselves, and most are flattered to answer questions.

Then use the details you find out in your story. It will make your work more believable, it will show that you take writing seriously, and that you have enough respect for your readers to get it right.

Nothing (okay, almost nothing) makes me reject a manuscript faster than a writer who hasn't done their research. I can--and do--forgive minor errors. But if you are writing about gardening and you have daffodils blooming in November, or tropical plants growing outdoors in February in Michigan, well that's an automatic reject.

Don't tell me you're writing fiction and the reader should be willing to suspend her disbelief. If you're asking your readers to accept that daffodils bloom in November in your story, then you need to explain why. Perhaps the climate has shifted. Perhaps the story is set in another world. Either way, you need to know when daffodils normally bloom so that you can explain what's different about your world. If you don't get your facts right, mistakes like this will jar the reader out of your story.

Keep in mind that most editors for fiction journals have other jobs. You don't know what field someone is in. What if you're writing a story filled with incorrect legal details and you send it to an editor who is an attorney at her day job? You're just asking to be rejected.

Don't make things harder on yourself. Do the work. Respect your reader, and respect yourself enough to send out your best work.

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