Research is a big part of writing, but we all do it a different way. I asked my fellow members of the writing community on Twitter how they research and below are some of the responses.
It’s often joked that if someone were to look at an author’s Internet browser history that they come off as a serial killer, and I’m here to say that that isn’t far from the truth. Some of the things that we have to research for our work can, to the outside observer, seem a little, let’s say, dodgy—for example, working out splatter patterns for gunshots or which vein to cut without the person losing too much blood too quickly. But there are also some things that we research that might seem a little odd to others, things that people might not necessarily think about, but when writing, it is something that you want to get correct for accuracy sake.
Our research can take many forms and take us to places that we might not have ordinarily gone, and, like our writing, our research skills will grow and evolve over time. For example, in my first book, Creatures, there is a section where I talk about a certain area and what wildlife would have been present there. Now, I could have looked in certain books for flora and fauna that may exist in the UK, but instead, as is our society at present, my first port of call was to do a web search for it. I’ve been thinking about how we do our research these days, and it got me thinking about how things used to be done. Today, we have a wealth of information at our fingertips. All we have to do is type in what we want to know into Google, and we can pretty much find out anything that we want toꟷwhether that information is correct is an entirely different storyꟷbut we trust it. In years past, we might have had to visit libraries or read through volumes of information to find what we need. It might have taken ten times as long to research a particular subject to a level where you could insert it into your story. If we wanted to know about a location, we might have had to visit it ourselves to know how it’s laid out or how it looks. For example, The Next Stage is set in Washington DC in the US, now, I’ve never been to Washington, so I had no idea where things were in relation to streets or historical landmarks, but I was able to create a path for my characters by touring the city virtually using Google Maps. Again, this made things so much easier as I could walk around the city without leaving my house, and I’ve been told that it’s a pretty accurate representation of the city. Using this method, I was able to revisit the city at the click of a button, so if I wanted to double-check something, it was something that was beyond me. As for skills growing over time, well, that’s a no brainer. Through research, we learn not only about things that we’re looking for but also where to find that information. We learn which websites, books, etc., will give us the information we require, and alongside this, we learn how to use the information that we gather. We learn to translate it and put it into our created worlds. I am better at research after writing three and starting countless other books. I’ve learned what information is of use to me and how to find said information.
It would be easy to write a book and not do any research for it. But in my opinion, it just wouldn’t be as good. Somehow readers know when something isn’t accurate, whether that’s because they have personal experience of the thing you’re writing about or they’ve done the research themselves, and in a way, you owe it to your readers to be as accurate as possible, because these days, it’s easy for anyone to fact check what you write. Of course, there are some genres where research might not be needed. For example, if you’re writing fantasy with worlds that are wholly created by you and don’t follow the logic from the real world, you can pretty much say what you want, and people will go with it. But in some cases, you may still want to do some research. If your story includes battles that involve swords, even if it’s set in a purely fantasy world, you may still want to research different swords and how they are handled. It just lends that little bit more realism to the worlds that you create. I’m sure even in the days when there was no internet, that authors still did a lot of research. There will always be someone that is knowledgeable in the subject that was written about and so will have called the author out if something didn’t add up.
For me, research is a key aspect of being an author. If you’re not great at research and you don’t want to improve your skills in the area, then you will soon fall by the wayside, and people may not enjoy your work as much as they might do if you take that time to properly work out if that calibre of weapon would have made that wound, or if this street joins onto that one. Realism, in some novels, is key to the enjoyment of said novel. And I feel that if you bullshit your readers, they won’t be readers for long. But not only is research good for your writing, but it is also good for you. Through researching subjects for your novels or other works, you learn more about the world that you might not necessarily known before, and this alone will allow you to write about things that you might not have ordinarily done.
In summary, research is good; research is your friend. Research will improve your work and will pull your reader further into the world you have created.