RESEARCH ~ A MUST NO MATTER WHAT TYPE OF BOOK YOU’RE WRITING
You’re pounding out a fiction story. There’s no need to do research. After all, you’re making it up as you go. Nobody will care if you change all the rules, or history for that fact, as long as you create a fabulous story.
Hit the brakes and back up there. This might work, if you’ve carefully crafted an alternative rule and let the reader know up front that’s exactly what you’re doing. But not in ordinary, everyday fiction. There are rules we have to follow, and this is one of the most important.
Research can make or break your book.
Let’s start with the rules of physics, which so many new sci-fi authors love to break. First, unless you’re Han Solo barrel rolling away from the Death Star, you cannot do stunts like that sitting in your pilot’s seat without restraints and not pay a price. At the least, you’ll lost control of your craft. At the worst, you’ll crash into the spacecraft you’re escaping. Least you forget, space is a vacuum. You can’t go outside your craft without protective gear, and if said gear develops a leak, you are going to be in trouble. Ignoring these rules will cause you all kinds of trouble from the devoted sci-fi fans you’re hoping to woo, and they will back away from any other books you publish in the future.
Historical fiction is another place where the rules are often broken. On old west gunfight doesn’t include a group of sharpshooters. The weapons from that time weren’t sighted like they are now. Also, no one in a gunfight stands around and shoots at their opponent. They’re bobbing and weaving, diving for cover, and basically trying to stay alive. A small amount of research into the shootout at the O.K. Corral would have you discovering that the men involved in this epic moment, including the infamous Earps, were probably the worst shots in history. More than a hundred bullets were fired from weapons in those few crazed moments, yet only a very few found their intended targets. Just what happened to the rest? History didn’t record the damage done in that battle, but one might assume more than a few hit the dirt, there was a watering trough in the corral, and quite a few buildings in the vicinity. Reality versus imagination is quite a different thing. The men who fought this battle were all known for their shooting skills, but even those skills couldn’t give them an edge with it came to the reality of trying to survive.
Another part of historical fiction that is often wrong is furniture. Oh yes, the furniture. Imagine you have set your story in medieval times and you want your hero to flop onto a sofa. First error, there were no sofas as we know them during those times. More than likely, you mean a bench, which would have been created from rough hewn wood. There might or might not have been cushions on that bench, more than likely not. So flop onto a bench? Can you say “that hurts” or “splinters?”
You also need to be certain crops match what was available during those times. Saying the Irish grew potatoes in the tenth century when in actuality potatoes were indigenous to Peru and Chile. The Spanish Conquistadors discovered the potato in Peru in 1532, but Ireland didn’t know what the spud was until 1588 when ships from the Spanish Armada wrecked off the Irish coast. That’s a difference of six centuries. A little off, wouldn’t you say?
We now come to contemporary fiction. Hey, that’s the here and now, you protest. No need to do research. Really? Do you actually believe that? So, you’re about to take what is a great premise for a book and just trip along, telling the story your way, without making sure the facts you’re using are right? Your main character is fourteen and you’re going to have him or her driving a car wherever they desire without consequences? You’ve decided on an urban setting but describe a rural one? Do you think that’ll work?
In truth, if you get all these things past an editor, you’ll soon discover your fans are far more sophisticated than you gave them credit for being. They’ll tear your book apart after finding the first mistake and document every error for the review. Once the first adverse review appears about your lack of research, others will take up the reins to discover more problems. You’ll soon find your sales sputtering out and probably won’t find many interested in your future books.
Remember, research is your best friend, even if you’re doing it on the fly while you write your book.