I understand different types of books require varying amounts of research.
For instance, non-fiction clearly requires an excellent knowledge of the subject matter. If you’re an expert in that subject, you know it already. Otherwise, you’re burning the midnight oil to chase down the info. That’s fine. Luckily, I’m not writing non-fiction at present.
Moving to the other side of things, historical fiction comes to mind. Plenty of research here! I imagine an author would need an understanding of the culture, society, economy, clothing, food, politics, weather, language, major events, etc. of the time and place in which the story occurs. Yikes!
I’ve read some really good historical fiction and appreciate the work these authors do to get it right. They don’t have to relay everything like a history book, but big dollops of the stuff are necessary to create the setting. Happily, I’m not writing in this genre either. My interests lie in SciFi and fantasy.
SciFi, as you probably know, comes in various levels of scientific correctness. Hard SciFi relies heavily on real science or at least real scientific theory. I’ve read some amazingly absorbing hard SciFi. I, however, am not a scientist or an engineer, nor do I play either on TV. The amount of research – study, really – such an effort would take on my part would be insurmountable.
I do love SciFi and want to write in the genre. Still, a hard SciFi manuscript is beyond me. As you move away, then, from real science toward pseudo- and convenient science, you wander toward the borders of magic and fantasy. And that’s where I’ve decided to work for my first novel.
So, what about fantasy? Isn’t fantasy a research-free space for writers? After all, you’re inventing the world or at least the rules of the world in your book. Right?
Well, yes. But I’m first a consumer and fan of fantasy books. As a reader, I want the author to convince me to accept the world they’ve created. Only then can I willingly suspend disbelief and ignore my inner skeptic.
If an author can provide some fundamentals that make a fantasy world approachable, perhaps familiar underlying the unfamiliar, I’m more likely to feel satisfied. I won’t be pulled away from a well-told story by confusion about the story’s environment or perceived inconsistencies. It’s even more important if the fantasy realm has similarities to our own.
In other words, I think even fantasy authors have to do some research. Rats and double rats!!
How Much Is Enough?
These questions loom large in my mind as I work to get my book in shape. How much research is enough? How many details must I include in my narrative for it to be acceptable to the reading public?
I’m finding it very tricky! I don’t want the book to bog down in paragraph after paragraph of description. At the same time, I want enough to create a sufficient sense of the surroundings.
For example, one of the scenes in my book occurs in a cave. That’s great. I’ve been in a cave before. But … not all caves are created equal. This is an entire cave system in a specific type of geologic setting. Oh no! I thought I left geology behind as a college sophomore. Aaaah!
No, I’m not purposely trying to make the story difficult to write. I promise you that location is a natural outgrowth of the characters and plot. Well, I believe it is.
I suppose all I can do is try my best and trust the process – a developmental editor (if I can afford one) and beta readers (if I can find them) or a publishing house editor (if lightning miraculously strikes). As a neophyte, it’s an element of the story I’m wrestling with right now. Here’s hoping I can find the right balance.
This post was inspired by Victor Salinas over on A Writer’s Path who wrote “How to Build a Fantasy Economy.“