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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Research for Fiction

In The Farewell Season I included a lot of talk about food. Readers noticed. I received many comments about mouths watering and hunger pangs for blueberry kakar or ableskivers. Many assumed I'm good at Scandinavian cooking and some have even asked for recipes.

The truth is, it was all research. I scoured Scandinavian cookbooks at the library and sampled the tasty treats at the Scandinavian Festival in Junction City, Oregon. But I never baked a single crumb mentioned in the story. I do cook, and I and my husband are happy with the results. However, I stick to a collection of familiar (and easy) recipes, because I'm not all that fond of cooking. The enthusiasm for cooking must have skipped a couple of generations, because my grandmother loved to cook and so does my daughter. But my mother and I have cooked because we want to eat.

Non-fiction writers have to do a lot of research, of course, but so do fiction writers. I didn't know all that much about football before I wrote the book, but after reading a few books and attending many football practices, where I asked a lot of questions, I knew enough to write about it for my purposes. I also did research on grieving and grief counseling. For another story, I read an entire book about a minor league baseball team so I could write a couple of scenes where one of the main characters talks to a baseball scout.

Just because a story is fiction does not mean that "anything goes." The details need to ring true. Even in science fiction, fantasy and paranormal adventures things have to make sense to the reader. An imaginary world has to seem real. Anyone writing a historical novel or one set in an unfamiliar locale must get enough facts to be accurate and make the period or place come to life for readers.

It's easy to get lost in too much research. Some writers get so bogged down that they never write the story. Or they add details that are unnecessary just because they couldn't resist including them. Too much information is no better than not enough. The research must help advance the story.

The easiest way to do research, of course, is the internet. But visiting the library can yield nuggets not found online. Sometimes traveling to the location where a story takes place and talking to locals will yield color and details the internet or books can not. Interviews, as scary as they can seem to some writers, can be valuable. If you don't know a doctor, teacher, banker, architect, or whatever you need, ask a friend to introduce you or call, write or email explaining that you are a writer and tell them the basics of what you need to ask. Most experts are more than happy to share what they know.

So get out there and do your research. It can be time-consuming, but it can also be fun, and it will make your story more real.


3 comments:

  1. I agree. Fiction can mean a lot of research. I don't know why people seem to think otherwise.

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  2. So right. A writer must know so much more than will even wind up on the page. The written story is the tip of an iceberg, the peeking visible bit of a much larger body.

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  3. Research so enriches a story. It not only helps you get the facts right, but even helps you create characters and storyline that fit the period or setting. And food really makes a story come alive with its wealth of sensory detail.

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