Research is an important part of the writing process for authors of fiction and nonfiction.
A few of you out there may be wondering why fiction writers need to do research at all. Can’t they just make everything up? Research is important for world-building, storytelling, detail, and inspiration whether you are writing about the past, present, or future, whether your characters are living on earth or on an alien world, or whether they are using magic or technology.
My advice for writers about research:
- You don’t need to know everything about a subject in order to write about it. Think about what you really need to know, why you need to know it, and what you can just make up.
- Do not wait until you have done all of your research to begin writing. Writing and research should be interconnected, and each should fuel the other.
- Don’t become obsessed with details that aren’t important to anyone but you, but take the time to confirm the accuracy of information you do use so you can avoid obvious bloopers and preventable errors.
- Allow the research to lead you in unexpected directions. If you find out something that conflicts with your plans, don’t view it as an obstacle, figure out how to use it.
- When writing, don’t stop if you are missing details. Mark the spot, keep writing, and go back and fill it in later.
- Don’t put everything you know into your writing. Backstory and worldbuilding are great, but don’t put it all in the finished work. Avoid data dumps. To quote Ernest Hemingway, “I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven-eighths of it under water for every part that shows. Anything you know you can eliminate and it only strengthens your iceberg. It is the part that doesn’t show. If the writer omits something because he doesn’t know it, then there is a hole in the story.”
- Know when to stop– don’t let research interfere with your writing.
- Be open to serendipity, and allow yourself to discover information in unlikely places.