If you’ve have been keeping up with my blog posts for a while, you already know how I feel about research. If not, you can look at my slogan above: “Where Fiction and History Unite.” Fiction and history are both a large part of my life and my writing.
I’ve recently read a book that sent me into a passionate fit. Why? The author didn’t seem to have done any kind of research for the historical background, or if they had, they took major liberties. It was so stretched from the truth, I just wanted to cry!
Okay, you’re probably asking – “Why would this bother you so much?” “Lots books do this, right?” “It’s fiction!” Yes, it’s fiction. I know it’s fiction. But does that mean you can overlook research?
Look at it from my point of view. As you are probably aware, or just finding out now, I’ve been researching Egyptian culture for a new series I’m working on. It’s set in a modern time, but the clues, the mystery, even the whole book’s foundation rests on my understanding of real cultural beliefs. I’m even currently reading The Book of the Dead, a huge leap considering how much Egyptian customs scare me! But this is how I write. I immerse myself into a subject. Just ask any of my friends or family – I drive them crazy! The reason is that for me history and research make the story. They make it realistic. Even for science fiction or fantasy or books based on myths and legends, research makes the story come alive. It helps the author’s understanding of the world they’re writing about and it helps connect to the reader. How? By bringing the world into context. By helping the reader to look through the character’s eyes and understand the character better.
One of my characters in my new series was raised to believe in many of the old Egyptian customs. The cult is his life, even though he hides it from the modern world. My exploration into ancient Egypt has shown me just how important certain things would be to him and how certain events would affect him. I see life through his perspective and understand his fears. I learned how to challenge his beliefs, which helped him grow. The result is that I have written a better character than the one I began with. It also improved my setting as I built it based on Egyptian artifacts. And I know what ceremonies and rituals would take place. All because of research.
Now, I’m not saying you need to be an expert in historical events. However, some basic research is how I assure my understanding of my novels’ origins. I buy books, watch related television programs (Discovery, History, etc…), surf the internet, whatever I need to piece together the story. All that is needed is to develop and communicate an understanding. I’ll be honest, with the internet and Google, research is not as hard as it used to be. And it doesn’t take as long either.
Rest assured that research is not the only criteria I use to rate fictional novels. Yes, history and research are very important to me, but I also judge a book by its plot and quality. However, I will stress this. Even though the story’s general plotline is good, research can make it so much better!