Research! Ok, I admit it that was a dumb play on an old joke our fathers irritated us with on car trips when we were little, but I do have a point. As a writer, research should be right up there with…well…breathing. How many times have you picked up a book, began reading and suddenly found yourself screaming out…”that’s not true”! I know because I have done it. In fact, I have done it while, ahem, reading my own stuff. (Crap!)
Research is required any time you are going to spit out facts in your novel. Nothing is more self-defeating for a writer than to have readers catch them with their pants down on a fact. Granted, if you write fantasy you can play with the facts but that is the only genre where that is possible. AND, even if you are playing with characters who aren’t real, vampires, ghosts and the like, there are still some accepted rules that you must follow or your brethren will stake you. (i.e. vampires don’t sparkle. I know, I know…back, Twilight fans, back!) Even when writing vampire stories, research is still required.
Now you might be talking to this blog as you are reading saying, “now what difference does it make if I get some small fact about quantum physics wrong. No one will notice”, I’m here to tell you, yes they will. It is like a writer’s law akin to Murphy’s Law, if you askew the facts, the only guy who understands quantum physics in five states will read your book. It doesn’t matter if it’s not the kind of book you think geeks would read, one of them will and then your butt will be in the fire for that “small thing that you thought no one would care about”. True story…in one of my first books I had some information about the Vietnam War. I had researched the crap out of that time period and the war itself and I was pretty confident that I would not screw it up. The book was a mystery-thriller, NOT a war history piece yet it attracted the attention of a Vietnam Vet named Scott. Scott wrote me a letter. (Not an e-mail but an actual letter, I still have it) In the letter he explained to me that the place in which one of the flashback scenes in the book takes place was on the south end of the country, not the north as I had stated in my book. I wrote him back, thanked him for pointing it out but stated (I was young) that it didn’t really matter, because the book was a work of fiction. I got another letter from him three weeks later and in the middle of the page there was one typed sentence. It read, (I kid you not) “That’s where my brother was killed as I stood next to him; it matters to me.” I felt like the biggest jerk in the world. It was a fast, hard lesson for me in how important research can be.
So, do your research even if you think it’s silly because that one small fact you spout out will matter to someone; it is really important to get it right.
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