Writing Fiction: Is Research Necessary?

Written By: Annapurna Sharma

Research is an integral part of writing as it strengthens and substantiates the write-up. Writing sans research is like making a false statement. Whichever genre of writing one chooses, good and extensive research is an indispensable source and adds credence to the work. It not only improves the writer’s knowledge, but also acts as guidance and produces quality work. Like in health writing, regular journal updates benefit the writers by informing about the recent medical developments. Similarly, fiction writers can also benefit from research – for example, historical data may help a writer develop believable characters and a plotline for a period drama. Solid research often always produces authentic write-ups.
Maybe some 10-15 years back, writers wouldn’t have made long claims about consistent research. Most writing then was based on experiences and imagination. The scenario is rather different now. With an access to modern technology, readers love to see concoctions wherein hard facts are mingled with super imagination. A myriad of emotions, subtleties in relations, investigative conundrums, sci-fi creations, super-human behaviors and the list of what a reader enjoy goes on and on. Two or three decades ago a mere mention of cancer to the protagonist was sufficient to create a ruffle in the plot, as of now description of the type and intensity of the cancer adds more spice to the story.  A writer must be alert to get good back-up information from the available sources of research. 5 reasons why research is important for fiction writing –

1.      Accurate Data:  In recent years the WWW (World Wide Web) has become an essential ingredient, irrespective of the professional cook-ups. Any browser would begin with Google search or the Wikipedia. These are not only handy but provide heaps of information. There are many other websites, some maintained by experts or professionals or individuals. Do not restrict to a few sites as relying on data from a handful of sites is not often advised. Some websites may contain inaccurate info or the personal opinion of the author. Therefore it is imperative to browse through as many sites as possible to collect data. Keeping a record of the sites and the authors may prove helpful for future references. Sites maintained by well established institutions, universities or government offices may provide accurate and approximate info.  

2.      Information Updates: Newspapers and mags not only adorn our living room coffee tables, but also our mindsets. However modern and techie one can be and get all news from the net, yet the newspaper boy throws our daily paper into our porch. Bimonthly or monthly mags are quite common in most offices and households. They are the hard facts of information ranging from daily weather reports, tsunamis, tornados, awards, tales of the Queen of England or Malala Yousafzai and many such events or incidents. Every piece of info has its own importance and accompanied with individual author’s perspective can create ripples. Plots and stories are an extended imagination weaved out of real-life and pragmatic situations. A quick glance at the daily paper, a detailed look at special editions and documenting distinctive articles are some of the essential traits of a fiction writer. 

3.      Facts and Figures: Books and journals give us specific details about a particular topic. A history book gives instances of a certain era while a botany book lays down facts about plants. Similarly each book is a ‘Bhagavad Gita/ Bible’ in itself with certified acknowledgements and references. While books can provide facts, journals give details of recent research. Check up publication dates or new editions to get the latest data. Public libraries and university libraries contains volumes of scholarly info to be digested and dissected. However access to some periodicals is prohibitive and expensive. Open access journals are available with little or no financial barriers and restrictive use. In a recent interview to ‘The Hindu’, Elizabeth Gilbert, the best-selling author of ‘Eat Pray Love’ reveals that a tremendous amount of research about the 18th and 19th century botany was done for her recent novel ‘The Signature of All Things’.

4.      Realism: To get more realism in writing, it is necessary to get first hand information. Interview the people involved through questionnaires and juice out relevant info. Visiting the places discussed in the plot is an icing on the cake. It not only gives a feel of the place but also aids in better creativity. These are rare sources that enlighten and encourage an author, but may not be a feasible idea for everyone. But wherever possible indulging in such research accentuates the essence and appeal of the writing. It also brings great satisfaction to the author.  

5.      Improves creativity: Television programmes and movies may not offer accurate info as most of them are fictitious in character and plot. However, some help can be sought from them with regards to costumes and d├ęcor. Directors also indulge in extensive research before picturization. They try to preserve the originality of an incident as much as possible. For example a film like ‘Titanic’ can enliven the situations of that period and can form the base for a story with similar characters and time. All in all these programmes initiate the thought process. Hark! They also subdue our thinking capacity when overdone. 

Research is thus the ‘piece de resistance’ that turns an average story idea into a best-selling book.  

About the author :

Annapurna Sharma is an passionate and prolific writer based at Vijayawada, India.
With numerous web based articles to her credit, you can visit her blog http://aannapurnasharma.wordpress.com.

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