The question in the title is one I hear all too frequently when talking to readers, and I am amazed by the number of readers who are oblivious to the fact that authors are always required to do a certain amount of research when writing their stories.
I’ve had readers claim, “But it’s fiction! Why would you do research? Can’t you just make the stuff up?
The answer is No. Not even for the wildest science fiction, where a whole new world has been created, can the author afford to scotch the research. Questions would still arise and would still require answers — like How did this world come into existence? And the answers must be plausible. If your story is not believable, you will lose the reader before you get he or she hooked – a fate worse than death for an author.
There will be few stories an author can write strictly from their personal experience. I spent two years of my career surveying Florida waters by airboat, and I still wasn’t close to being able to create a story about an airboat safari for my debut novel Everglades. I spent several months researching every aspect of the famed River of Grass and the adjacent Big Cypress National Preserve before I crafted the first scene. Then I had to research the sugar plantation industry to create a believable scenario for the conflict.
Even an author writing about a small fictional town in the mid-west will have some anchor businesses in the town to hold the populace and thereby the story together. And unless the author has owned a business similar to one in the story and is familiar with the nuances of the business operation, then research will come into play. The author simply cannot avoid research.
Sometimes, we luck out and find an expert to plug all of our research gaps. I certainly did for my second novel Catch of the Day. My day-job lake-survey partner is also a professional fisherman – they prefer to be called anglers – with the national Bassmaster Southern Opens series. He vetted my manuscript upon completion to be sure I hadn’t made any fishing faux pas.
Now the Catch of the Day doesn’t actually have a large amount of fishing tournament information and description in it, but what is there had to be accurate. As with most fiction, the characters and their interaction and dialog provide most of the story, but what little narrative is provided for color must be realistic. The reader will know.
Fiction research is always worth it in the end, even if you spend months reading up on a subject, for there is no greater feeling for an author than to have a reader post a review or send an email that says, “You made me feel like I was right there in the story…”
Download and read The Catch of the day or Petie’s latest novel, No Going Back, and check out all her books at Desert Breeze Publishing.