Monday, June 19, 2006

Down to the details

By Heather Justesen

Researching can either be a pain or a pleasure, but it is always a boon. One writer I know said once that research is the most important part of writing; if you don’t do your research, your story will suffer. This is as true for fiction as non fiction.

Case in point, I read a book some months ago where the main character found a baby that had been abandoned and was able to get permission to foster it within a week. Though the romance part of the plot was well designed, that one detail made it impossible for me to completely lose myself in the book. It could never happen. The story was set in Utah and the main character was from out of state. It takes months for a person to get clearance to foster or adopt in Utah, especially if they haven’t lived in the state for at least five years.

In another book I read a character made a comment about how miraculous it was that a woman got pregnant twice with identical twin boys when twins didn’t run in their family. The fact is it is a miracle that anyone could get pregnant twice with identical twins, regardless of how many other twins there are in their family—identical twining is not genetic in any way shape or form. How do I know that? Research for a book of mine.

In the first place I believe the writer was either woefully na├»ve or decided to ignore reality in order to make her book come together. In the second place I was able to pass the comment off as a common misunderstanding. There probably aren’t that many people who know about identical twining so I can accept that the character making the comment wouldn’t know it either.

My point? Even little details can distract a reader from the story and break the suspension of disbelief if the proper research isn’t done. Researching for a book may take very little time if it is set in a location you know with the people engaged in activities you understand. I didn’t have to do much research for the book I’m getting ready for submission because I knew the topics quite well from my personal life. On the other hand, I have a book later in the series for which I’ve spent more time than I can count learning about the area, the school, and the culture in which the book takes place because most of it happens in England—a country that fascinates me, but one I’ve never visited.

So get the facts, learn a little about an aspect of the world you didn’t know or understand, and make your character’s world richer—down to the details.

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