Many people, I believe, think that writing fiction is all about the imagination. After all, you cannot write a fictional story without making up something that did not really happen. That’s creative writing, So they’re right, right?
Sure, imagination is the major tool to use, but even make-believe needs to be somewhat, well, believable. Say you are working on a science fiction story. Do you simply say the aliens have arrived and then every person or thing on earth starts to float or elevate and you just leave it at that? I think not.
“The world of your story must have its own internal logic, rules and constraints.” (Writers & Artists)
You do not simply assume that readers will assume for themselves that the loss of gravitational pull is mainly due to the alien invasion. Maybe some won’t mind, those who are in it for the sole entertainment. But there are the thinking audience/readers who would mind, whom you could lose as readers because of that. There has to be some kind of scientific way to explain how the aliens do it somehow.
Since we’re on the subject of aliens, anyway, I am reminded of a movie I saw a long time ago, and which book version I got to own and read. It’s called Enemy Mine by Barry B. Longyear.
In it is an alien nicknamed Jerry, who we naturally assume as male based on appearance, voice (in the film), and how the Narrator begins telling the story. Then the earthling (Narrator) Willis Davidge gets a shocking surprise when Jerry announces he/she/it is pregnant. The alien soon gives birth.
Now the writer may had known about asexual reproduction from way back gradeschool, but if he hadn’t, then research certainly helped him use the concept and make the scenario logical enough. If he just left it to readers/viewers to figure out the gender of the alien–and whether hanky-panky between two inter-galactic species was involved–then the readers would most probably be lost. And the writer would have probably lost his patrons.
“Research is the elixir that reinvigorates your storyline, opens your chapters, and liberates you when you’ve written yourself into a suffocating closet. It makes you an expert in things you know diddley about, and elevates you from a wannabee to an author.” (Writers Write)
Ever wondered how Michael Crichton‘s Jurassic Park would have fared if he hadn’t done research to somehow make readers take into consideration the possibility of dinosaurs in the modern world?
It’s good to make your readers think. However, if it involves neglect on your part to provide more details, that’s where you’re doing it wrong. And we are not talking about sci-fi alone.
Historical fiction definitely requires research that maybe incorporated in your story to make it seem more credible and plausible. You cannot write about the early ’40s without mentioning anything about WWII, no matter how brief. Certainly, you cannot write about WWII itself based on assumptions or hearsay only. You need to add a few hard facts.
Detective stories nowadays seem more interesting when writers include what happens in a crime lab, for instance, or how certain test results lead to solving the mystery. Your detective cannot send the skull of a Jane/John Doe’s severed head to the lab and then have him say later, “Oh, s/he’s been identified as this person or that” without explaining how it is possible through examining dental records. Not all readers may get it.
Meanwhile, well-researched information can help explain how the past can lead someone down the psycho-killer path in suspense-thrillers. Even in fantasy, this could come in handy. If you want to write about creatures in the area where your setting is, research won’t hurt unless you are creating a whole new fictional beast.
All I’m saying is, while there is no limit to the imagination, research can help fuel that imagination and make readers believe you or, at least, your capability as a writer.
“Research, factual accuracy, lays the base for plausible fiction, for it actually enables suspension of disbelief in readers by building their trust.” (The Center for Fiction)
I am not talking about bombarding them with facts after facts to the point of information overload. I’m not talking about spoon-feeding your readers, either. They, too, need to make use of their own imagination. In fact, the main reason people read fiction is it allows them to use this often-neglected ability to imagine in the real world.
The main role of the writer is to tell the story and guide the reader.
“Thorough research instills in the writer enough knowledge to give her real confidence in her material—the kind of confidence that releases her from a need to show off or twist her plots, and frees her to finally sit down and write.” (The Center for Fiction)
Do not underestimate the power of research. Consider this advice the next time you write your fiction.
What is your opinion on this? Does research matter? Let’s talk!
This piece serves as my Letter R post for the A to Z Challenge 2017.
I am creating a page for my A to Z Challenge 2017 posts. Wait for it 😉