Readers (and friends and acquaintances and strangers you meet during tennis matches) often have ‘funny’ ideas about what it’s like to be a fiction writer. These ideas are mostly so far off base it isn’t even funny (No, actually, I don’t spend the entire day staring at my screen trying to think up things to do!). Take researching a novel as an example. Most readers understand that writing historical fiction involves hours and hours of researching. But what about chick lit or other guilty pleasure type novels? Surely, no research or perhaps only a bit of research is required to write one of those? Um, no. I think most readers would be shocked by the amount of research writers put into their writing. (Of course, there are always exceptions. I, for one, almost never read a novel with a hero or heroine who is a lawyer as most writers have no clue what a day in the life of a lawyer looks like. Hint: No one litigates all day, every day.)
I readily admit I’m obsessed with details (And yes, twenty years after my discharge from the U.S. Army, I’m still blaming them for this obsession. I can hold a grudge for-freaking-ever.). For example, I’ll check things like the time of sunrise and sunset at the location of my novel to ensure I don’t have a heroine driving to work in the dark when the sun would have already risen. This is actually a huge pet peeve of mine. People often have a vague idea about things like the length of days during winter, the amount of rain a location receives, etc. As writers, we need to avoid using our generalized feelings and use facts in our writing. It’s not that hard. You can find almost any information online. Sure, it takes time but so does writing a book. It’s just part of the process.
What kind of ‘things’ am I talking about? Here are some examples of research I’ve done for my upcoming novel (a funny mystery which features romance and a bit of suspense):
- My heroine is a librarian. I ensured that the local university in her town had a library science program. As she works at a high school library, I also read several blogs on what it’s like to be a librarian in a school.
- As my heroine’s husband walked out on her only a few months ago, I researched divorce law in the state to see how difficult the divorce proceedings would be and how long they would take.
- I also spent the better part of one morning researching jewelry appraisals, specifically diamond evaluations just so I could write one (1!) paragraph in my manuscript regarding the evaluation of a diamond the heroine found.
- Of course, I know how to go completely overboard as well. I spent 30 minutes researching meerkats as I wanted to make a joke about one of my characters acting like a meerkat. (Yes, I do need help. Thanks for pointing that out.)
What about the rest of you writers? How much of your writing time is spent on research? (The stuff that leads to actual writing and isn’t just a procrastinating tactic.)