There is little more that bothers me than when it is painfully obvious a writer has not done his or her research. False facts, filler (or lack of) detail because a subject is not well-known, and unconnected ideas can come screaming off a page at a reader. At least, they often do for me. Granted, a writer can fool a reader into believing the author knows all, and sometimes that can work to his or her advantage; however, that is very rare. More often than not, a reader will catch onto a false tune in a story.
For example, recently I was reading a book where the author had attempted to place her characters in Scotland and set up the book as a love story. Now, that seemed all fine and dandy to me until I got further into the book. Her time period jumped all over. The readers were never given a date, but the period clothes, government and historical set up, and much more did not connect. I had no idea what time period I was supposed to be imagining this book was taking place in. What really started to get my goat was how little the author actually knew about Scotland. It was like she just made up her own version of what she thought Scotland should be like. Coming from a family with a rich Scottish background, it started to grate at me when the author got the majority of Scottish traditions wrong–the book even went as far to declare that the main female character remembered dancing every year on August Fourth to celebrate Scotland’s independence. What? As much as I wish Scotland had an independence day, that simply isn’t so. I still have no idea where the author got that information. I even tried looking it up to see if I was somehow wrong. There were so many other inconsistencies and great lack of needed details for plot points that I couldn’t connect to or feel for the characters. I shut down before the end of the book, and sadly, I still have not finished it. The main plot (which was constantly strayed from) couldn’t even hold my interest to get me to the end.
I am not going to say that I am an amazing researcher when it comes to books. I get my information wrong, more often than I would like to admit, but I recognize how important doing research is. After all, we cannot write what we do not know.
Therefore, when I have no clue what I am writing about, I turn to any and every resource I can. I have to know what I am writing about or else my readers will not be able to follow my story. It has to be believable and relateable, and that means I need facts.
Raychel Rose recently posted a wonderful article on her blog: For Writers: How to Research (with Free Resources). Talk about a golden field of resources for research! She had a lot of great tips for writers. These can be wonderful for writers to get solid facts on a subject.
Yeah, how many times has something like that ^^^ happened to other writers out there? Whereas statistics, facts, and references are great, I have also found that sometimes I need the real thing. I need more than just information, I need to observe and experience as many things as I can so I can have a stronger point of view in writing. I want detail, real detail!
Nothing can bring an event to life for a reader like describing a personal experience can. I have found my writing can become stronger the more I experience life and what I am researching. I had my first anxiety attack last year. I have had friends who have had anxiety, but the most I could grasp was listening to their experiences and trying to understand how anxiety attacks can affect different individuals. After my own anxiety attack, my descriptions became that much more clear, which has been very helpful in Fire Mark with the main character, Muriel. *SPOILER!*
Another example for how important real life experiences can be for research would be swordplay. I write a lot of fantasy, so many of my characters fight with a bow and arrow, staffs, swords, and so on. I learned archery at a young age from my dad, and my brother loves to hunt with a bow and arrows, so I have felt pretty confident in describing archery in my books (I still look up extra information though.). I can’t say I have had a lot of experience with staffs, but I have had some, and I have friends who are great for information. Other medieval-type weapons I mostly do research for, but personal experience at Ren fairs have saved me. It also helps to have an engineer as a husband who has built trebuchets and can give me background information on how and why something works. So, as far as swordplay comes in, I have had little to no experience with it until recently.
I have researched swordplay, types of swords, technique, and much more via books and the internet. Watching youtube videos on the subject has also been great. It wasn’t until two of my very good friends decided to take up fencing that I really got to experience what it was like to use a sword. Not only that, but I learned technique, more than just foot placement, but a lot on defense, how to hold a sword so it balanced to my body type, and how to find an opening. I will never forget what it felt like the first time my borrowed blade was struck so hard that it made my wrist numb and sent my arm and blade flying down to the side. I didn’t drop the sword, so I’m proud of that, but it definitely left me open for a kill. That is a terrifying and vulnerable feeling. It is one I still cannot get over.
What I am really getting at with all these examples is that research is vital to a story. It connects ideas, characters, places, events, and makes them real for a reader. Often times, I have multiple tabs, books, and other resources pulled out for just one idea. the more a writer knows about a subject, the better that writer’s story becomes. Not only that, but it is exhilarating to learn more on a subject or a subject one would never think to research. For myself, there is hardly anything more satisfying than searching the world over for ideas.
For other tips and tricks on writing and research, I have other great links pinned to my “Writing” board on Pinterest. Great website for writing and research, Pinterest. And there are many more out there!