Thursday, January 22, 2015

Research, Writing and Worldbuilding

I'm a big believer in research as a key part of writing, regardless of what you write.  It's funny, because I've heard people-- in talking about writing fantasy or sci-fi-- that it's easier since "you can just make stuff up".  But nothing could be further from the truth. Good writing, especially genre writing, requires verisimilitude.  It needs to feel legitimate, and that comes from research. 
Some of that research comes from learning a basic understanding of how the real world works, and applying that to the worlds you build.  For example, in our modern society, it's easy to be divorced from the fundamentals of where our food comes from*-- but that's no excuse for writing a story in which you have a Nordic-style medieval culture where they have fresh subtropical fruits.  Yes, I have seen that.
But research can also be lateral.  I love reading non-fiction books, especially about history, and one thing I loved was The Disappearing Spoon, which was about the history of the periodic table of elements, including bits about the history of each element on the table.  What this gave me was insight into some of the history and methodology of the formal and informal scientists from the 15th to 19th centuries.  I was able to use that to give verisimilitude to the academic environments in Thorn of Dentonhill.  It wasn't research to that end, but it was increasing my general understanding, and I was able to use it.
Research can also be hands-on.  I have a writing friend who, in writing a main character who was a drag-racer and wheel-man for bank robberies, went to drive on a racetrack so she could get a direct sense of the high-speed driving her character would do.  I went to Mexico City and observed how street interactions went in different neighborhoods**, and that went into Thorn and how the folk in the Aventil and Dentonhill neighborhoods behaved. 
The short point is: research makes for better books.  And maybe you'll get to drive a racecar.
*- Yes, I'm often using food as an example.
**- This was especially useful because I was out of my spoken-language comfort zone, since it forced me to really focus on the body-language of interaction. 

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