Research and the 199 Steps
Hi, I’m Lyssa Medana and this is a series of articles with my thoughts on research and the fiction author. I hope that you can use them as a starting point for your own writing journey.
Why Should You Research When Writing Fiction?
The main reason you should research when you write is so that you don’t look like a complete doofus. Every writer makes mistakes as they write–no exceptions. Editors should pick up if you have two full moons twelve days apart, or leave a room before you ever walk into it, or have a character change eye colour halfway through a book. Writers get caught up in the flow and stuff gets missed and everyone does it. Sorting out the editing is part of the writing process. Research protects you in a slightly different way.
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Let’s talk about the beach-walking heroine from the last post. She strolls along Whitby beach at sunset, heading towards her first meeting with the strong-jawed hero. She goes up a gentle bank and into the ruins of Whitby Abbey. All those readers who know anything about Whitby, UK, are now howling in frustration. Whitby Abbey isn’t near the beach. There is a set of 199 steps that take you from the shops by the harbour to the church near the Abbey and they are steep. When I was there, I didn’t hesitate to take the bus. And you have to pay to get into the Abbey. There are, unfortunately, plenty of people who know about Whitby, UK. They have goth weekends, steampunk weekends and as it was used as a location in the original Dracula novel. It gets a lot of traffic. Anyone who picked the novel because it was set in Whitby is (A) less likely to finish the book, (B) less likely to leave a good review, and (C) not likely to buy another of your books.
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Research is part of ‘write what you know.’ That doesn’t mean that you need to walk every inch of Whitby and memorise its street plan. You may never have visited there but still want to use it as a location because of the plot, or perhaps for a series that you are building. That’s okay. You don’t need to get everything perfect, and you don’t need to put every detail. The reader is going to be caught up in the budding romance between the sweet heroine and strong-jawed hero. The exact type of pebble that is regularly found on Whitby beach is unimportant. The important part of your research is to put in enough correct detail to give a strong backdrop and to help the flow of the story. If someone is distracted because you put Whitby on the English Channel instead of the North Sea, they may miss the important first, dramatic kiss.
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That’s the thing–research shouldn’t be noticeable; it should keep your reader from being pulled out of the story by excessive detail. Your reader should be too worried about whether the gentle heroine’s malicious sister will cause trouble than to fret about whether you’ve called the sweet treat cotton candy or candy floss. However, when it comes to getting into the Abbey, people notice. Anyone who has queued for ages and handed over a fortune to get into Whitby Abbey will be so busy resenting the heroine’s easy access that they may well miss that important clue to the main plot, which would be a waste of your excellent writing.
There is another point about research here. A reader who picks up your book is giving you a certain respect. They are choosing to spend some of their precious time reading what you wrote. They may have allocated a percentage of their spending money on it. They are paying you a compliment when they choose your book to read. It seems only fair that you respect them enough to get the broad details of the background right.
All in all, the reason you should research is so that you don’t mess up something bad enough to distract from the plot, irritate the reader, and deter them from buying another of your books. And, so that you look like an amazing author instead of an idiot. But you’ve got this.
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Photo Credit (top pic): David Hawkes on Unsplash
Lyssa Medana is a 50-something author living in West Yorkshire, UK. Her works include The Forgotten Village, Digging up the Past, Cats in the Bible, Dinner at Dark and Tales from the White Hart. Lyssa also regularly publishes poems and short stories on her blog, Always Another Chapter. You can find the first book in her Aether Trails series, Out of the London Mist, here: https://threefuriespress.com/products/out-of-the-london-mist-by-lyssa-medana. The first of the Magic Awakening, King's Silver, is available on Kindle Unlimited https://amzn.to/3MkEHVe