How important is research to writing a great novel? What if it’s not historical? Is it even necessary if it’s a fictional setting/town set in current time? Won’t your readers already have a good idea of what life is like in today’s world?
These are all questions novelists face when writing a book these days. It’s a fairly common view that if it’s historical, a writer needs to research the period for speech patterns, dress, and other aspects of the time it portrays such as food preparation methods, farming or hunting procedures, societal mores, etc.
But what if it’s set in today’s world? Can you get away with not researching if your characters live in current times in a culture that’s familiar to most of your perceived audience? While that decision rests entirely with the writer, if I were asked for my two cents, I’d have to say no–as in, “no, you shouldn’t try to get away without researching.” And my reason for that is simple. It shows when you research and it shows when you don’t.
As an example, my current series is set in rural Virginia in current times. While speech patterns are broadly consistent across our nation at this time, many of my characters are older. Their speech was formulated decades before young people today. They’re from the south, so that adds another layer of differences to be considered. They’re also nuts, but that’s a whole other post for another day. Each of these slight differences adds up to a big gap in what a younger (sane) person from the north would agree is “normal” for them. Now, keep in mind we’re not trying to make everything our characters do or everything about our setting seem “normal” to all our readers. That would be impossible, not to mention boring. Celebrating the differences in human beings, in our lifestyles, food preferences, society’s cultural expectations, language, and other things that define us is part of the mystery and appeal of books.
So what are we trying to do? We’re trying to make our work authentic. While no one will ever visit Road’s End, the fictional village in my series, I want to make them want to. In fact, I strive to make them feel as though they have visited it, that they know the residents, that they understand what World War II veterans think about world affairs today, or what things the reader and the character might agree or disagree on, and for what reasons. The little details I incorporate–whether it’s a speech colloquialism, weather tidbit, or local plant life–makes the setting and characters that much more authentic and appealing. I want my readers to be sad to say goodbye to the characters and yearn to visit the location themselves.
Isn’t that the reason we write–to invite readers into a world we’ve created as authentically and appealingly as we can? To make them want to return again and again? To tell others about this great world (re: book) they’ve discovered that made them feel as though they were in its pages?
What about you? Do you research?
By Deborah Dee Harper
Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing