Making it Make Sense

One of my community college English classes was taught by a professor who thought of research as something rewarding and rather fun. “It is a quest,” he said. “A journey.”

You’d think that writing novels would require no research. After all, you are making something up that’s totally fake and hasn’t existed before. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Writing fiction takes a great deal of research, especially if you want to write something that’s realistic, and if you want to draw your reader into the world you’ve created.

Books by authors like Jodi Picoult and John Grisham require a lot of research since they’re so realistic. Many of Ms. Picoult’s books deal with real-life diseases and court issues. Grisham’s novels wouldn’t be so successful if they hadn’t come from his real-life knowledge of what a trial lawyer does. Any historical novel you read is more than likely the product of months or years of research.

Even if you’re writing fantasy novels and you’re making up your own worlds, you have to do some research to determine what’s been done before – or how you can create worlds that make sense in a logical way. If you’re going to have anti-gravity in your novel, how will that work?

You may despise doing research, but it’s good to think of it as a journey in itself – or a mini-quest on the journey of writing. You’re searching for facts that will make your stories and your settings more realistic, so they are more likely to grab hold of readers’ imaginations.

7 thoughts on “Making it Make Sense

  1. Even non-fiction writers writing their own memoirs have to do research! Walt Harrington was known for checking the weather on a day he described in his memoir, to be sure he had remembered it accurately.

    I’m a journalist, author of two NF books, and I love doing research. One of the key elements of my new book, which is about working retail, is an expanding aluminum pole that was essential in my job for reaching merchandise that hung close to the ceiling — there were two of them for the whole store and thus we wasted a lot of time and energy finding one and using it. I assumed they must be expensive because they were so rare….they cost $5 (which I found by researching it after I quit.) That factual nugget only strengthened my belief, and my argument, that corporate execs were cheaping us out and making our low-wage jobs even nastier. Without that fact, it’s merely a whine. With that fact, there’s some truth to a larger argument.

    Your readers must believe every word you write, written with clear authority. Hard to do that with no facts to back you up.


    • That’s true. With memoirs, it’s those small, true details that make the story real. Research is also enjoyable because you can find out things that will really shock you – and that will give you greater incentive to put these shocking tidbits into your book.

      Malled sounds like a cool book… I have to check that one out!


  2. I do as little research as possible, but I do what I need to (how quickly people die from specific types of wounds, the effects of different poisons, how different types of churches are laid out, etc.) When I need to have text in different languages, I go to people I know are fluent in those languages (rather than using the Google translator).


  3. (Sorry for the second reply, but I hit “post” by mistake on the last one.)

    I also keep an eye open for things which I thought were right but weren’t. I read an article about all the ways you can tell when writers write about guns without knowing anything about them. It mentioned that people often write about the “clip” in an automatic, but that automatics have “magazines,” not “clips.” I changed that fast. 🙂

    As for memoirs, I would think it’s particularly important to get the details right these days, since there are so many stories around about “memoirs” which are actually fabricated. So, some readers are probably viewing all memoirs with a certain amount of suspicion.


  4. So true. I’m working on two novels right now and I’ve found myself researching quite a bit. It’s amazing what you find yourself researching. Recently, I had to research military funerals in order to write about one in a novel. Not only did I have to learn about the ceremonies at the memorial, but I had to learn about death notices, deployment, military ranks, etc. I researched all I could and wrote the scene. A few months later, I got the opportunity to attend a military funeral. I came home, opened up that novel, and deleted that entire scene only to rewrite it. When possible, experience is the best research.


    • I’ve experienced that, too. There’s nothing like really experiencing something as opposed to just reading about it. Thanks for visiting, Victoria!


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