It is absolutely true that if you are writing fiction, you can create your masterpiece whole cloth without a stitch of research and, most likely, get away with it. I am not saying go ahead and put forth your best effort sans the appropriate effort, far from it. It has always been one of my rules to exhaustively study upon the subject I decide to write about. Okay, more of guideline than a rule, but let’s not be picky.
A couple of years ago I was writing a book called Living Legend set in ancient Greece. I could have taken the well-traveled road, winging it until the end and I probably would’ve gotten away with it. Probably.
The problem was my own stubborn pride and my sense of what’s right. If I wrote something about ancient Greece that didn’t jibe and got caught, or worse yet, caught myself, I would have been both mortified and enraged (at my inherent laziness, of course). It was my ‘Ah-ha’ moment in writing, when I realized that research was important for the creation my world, my art. I also came to the conclusion that it would be insulting to the reader to half-ass the endeavor. The worst thing I could do (besides committing a gross act of violence) was to treat the reader like a simpleton.
Despite what MSNBC, CNN, and FOX news would have you believe, most people are as smart or smarter than the average bear and are pretty quick to spot a slacker. Research is the key to world building, to avoiding logic traps and to adding depth to a story, bringing it to rich life with not only the addition of detail, but the correct detail. The art of storytelling requires, no demands, that we as authors summon the energy for competent research.
Look, I’m old enough (no comments from the peanut gallery, please) to remember when we didn’t have the Internet with Wikipedia at our fingertips, not to mention the thousands of other websites perfectly suitable for data mining. Back in my day (yeah, I said it), it was books, books and more books. Encyclopedia Britannica was my best friend an the local public library was my home. Now there is no excuse not to at least head to Google, type in what you’re looking for and hit RETURN. Life in the Digital Age is a lot kinder to us wordsmiths. In fact, as far as research goes, it is virtually ideal, so there is no reason not to perform due diligence for our readers.
Mark Everett Stone is the author of The Judas Line and the BSI Series that begins with Things to do in Denver when you’re Un-dead.