The Research Lurch
One of the biggest mistakes a writer can make is not doing their research. I can’t even begin to tell you how my times stories have been compromised because of lack of journalistic research. When a writer is lazy and just assumes that what they are writing is true, they open themselves up to credibility issues. Once the public marks you as not credible, they are unforgiving. Worse than that, you can get into a lot of legal trouble. It’s just sloppy, careless journalism.
The Research Abyss
It doesn’t matter if you are writing a Chinese detective story or a medieval romance novel, it is very important that when you write, you write with authority. Your story may be set in a certain time and place, but you need to remember that your characters have to live where you create them. If your characters seem phony, your work will be deemed phony.
Let’s say your character lives in 16th century France. You need to ensure that they live by the customs of the day. Your character needs to speak and act in accordance with the people who lived in that day and time period. If you do a good job with your characters placement, your audience will envelop themselves into the character and its surrounding. That’s how a story should be.
Now, you can’t be expected to know everything there is to know about 16th century France. This is why research is so important, and the better your research, the better your work. Besides, your customers need to be vested in your work, or they will not come back. No customers is the fastest way a writer can fade away into nothingness. Sad, but true.
Busting the Roadblocks
Let’s say you are one hundred pages into your story about New England fishermen during the 1920’s. The story puts these brave men on one of the greatest trips of their lives, catching thousands of pounds of fish, sea mink, and even a small whale. They come home to a victory that they could only dream of. Now that’s what I call a story!
But wait… sea mink have been extinct since the early 860’s. Busted! Those hundred pages were for nothing. This might seem like a small detail to some people, but avid readers do not like lazy writers. If you don’t have the time to research, then why should they take the time to read your book? If you are a journalist for a magazine, this over site could cost you your job and your career. Don’t be sloppy.
Staying Between the Ditches
Doing your research beforehand will give you the ability to write hard and fast. As your mind selects the what you are going to write, researching ahead of time will make your thoughts more fluid, and you will be able to imagine more possibilities for your characters. It will allow you to envelop your creative world in such a way that you can imagine yourself there as you write.
When I was writing one of my mystery stories, ‘The Silver Sower,’ I had to envelop the world of two main characters; the first, and old cranky detective, and the second, a sarcastic teenage girl with a very nasty
attitude. I know it sounds funny, but once you live and breathe the rolls that you are trying to display, it makes you not only more credible, but the stories are much more believable.
The way I developed my detective was to take everything I knew from my time in the Navy Police force and mix it with a thousand old detective shows from the sixties, and old detective novels. That part was easy. The hard part was Melisa, the girl. I was looking through social media for weeks trying to understand how girls talked to each other. Then, I interview my daughter and her friends, and it was not easy to wrap me head around it. As a retired 50 years old man, it was very hard to understand young girls today. Yikes.
Make Sure you Research the Right Way!
I realize the internet is an easy way to look up anything, but you have to remember that someone else wrote that too. I am not trying to knock Wikipedia, but a lot of that information is editable… in other words, people can add corrections to it. If I know in my heart that Santa Clause is real, and I put it in Wikipedia, does that make it so? I think not.
Go to the library… read a book. Talk to the old lady down the street. Pull up some research papers. The more good research you do, the better your product will be. And don’t just research your characters, research your towns. If your character buy’s a pack of cigarettes from a vending machine in Newark, New Jersey, you had better know how much those cigarettes costed in Newark at that time.
Of course, you can always check your facts as you go. Doing this sometimes creates holes in your writing, since you have to stop so many times. If you work with an editing company, they usually help with the fact checking. In my case, I want my story to be mine. I want to tell it my way 100% or the way. I promise you… if you do your research up front and thoroughly, you will have a much better (and more fun) writing experience.
Now, Go Write Right!
One final thought… when you are well versed in all of your facts, working with your characters is like having a conversation. If you know what you are talking about, you can speak comfortably for hours. When writing, it’s the same way. If you know your research, you can be your character and write effortlessly for hours.
Most of the writers who read this became writers for a reason. Some did it for money, but many write because they have loved writing since they learned how to do it. Why would you ever want to create something that isn’t your finest work? Nobody knows everything. I wish you the best of everything you create. Remember, your next character will be your best!
I will be seeing you between the covers…