Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Writer Wednesday: Research vs. Imagination

Pour a fresh cuppa and pull up a chair. Feel free to share my M&Ms. I'm in the home stretch of my WIP's first draft and taking a little break to wonder about...


Specifically, when you're writing a fantasy novel and making sh*t stuff up as you go along, how much actual research is an author expected to do?

My current WIP is a sequel to my upcoming release Son of a Mermaid. In this second book, the main character needs to travel from Cape Cod all the way to the Aegean Sea. Now, he is part-merman, so he could just swim there, but the storyline dictates that he needs to travel like a human. You wouldn't believe how much time I *wasted* pouring over airline schedules and travel itineraries, and different types of airplanes employed for the different legs of the journey. Details, details... but do they matter to the readers? A reader will whip through those pages in minutes, if not seconds. Was it worth the hour or so spent looking up options on the internet?

This week, I lost myself for a bit researching Loggerhead sea turtles in the Mediterranean. Readers probably wouldn't know the difference if I gave the wrong description or details, as long as it sounded vaguely turtle-ish. Or would they?

My first novel, Unfolding the Shadows, involves ghosts, hospitals, drug dealers, and diabetes. I spent way too much time researching to get the details right and make it flow naturally, down to researching the floor plan of the specific hospital and the smells that cling to your clothes if you spend time in a meth lab. I visited so many ghost sites I lost track of which ones I'd already been to. (I still get email solicitations for diabetes treatments. Spam may be the biggest downside of research.)

When you're reading a book, do the details matter? Which details are important and why?

When you're writing, how often do you get stuck on an idea and turn to the internet for answers?

If you're reading a fantasy set in our real world, do you like having real world details in there? Or is it okay for the author to make shit stuff up as they go along, details be damned?

As for me, I'm still reading about Loggerheads and Narwhals. (Very cool creatures!)


  1. Yes, it is difficult not to become lost in the research. I heard one famous author say she uses children's non-fiction books for her research. That way the facts don't get in the way of the story.

    1. That's a neat idea! Actually, when I started on my first mermaid idea, I did go to the library - there's a great book of Mermaid Myths from around the world by Mary Pope Osborn. Interesting to see that every culture has mermaid tales dating back centuries... but again, I lost a few hours sitting in the library stacks, reading...

  2. Hi Katie, thanks for asking. The detail that matters to me most is dialogue. I'll skip over everything else to get back to the dialogue. This of course becomes a big problem when I write the same way I read. I often have two characters standing in a vacuum talking :/

    1. Hi, Jenn, I know what you mean - I often find myself rushing through a novel and then having to flip back a few pages to see what plot point I missed !
      Happy Reading ;-)


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