March 7, 2011

Research That Makes Good Fiction

No matter what genre of fiction you write, accurate research pulls your readers into your story. Plotting, formatting, world-building and character research are just four items on a list of many that make your reader unable to put that book down.
Plotting research. A lot of writers write by the “seat of their pants” and that works for them. Others plan every detail of their work, following a close outline, but, no matter how you plot (or don’t), there is a basic guide to follow in fiction.
This includes A) introducing your reader to your character’s ordinary world, B) diving into adventure, C) accumulation of bad things happening, D) answering the call to adventure, E) gathering friends and allies, F) the point of no return G) things falling apart H) your crisis or “black moment”, I) resolution, and J) your happy ever after.
In all actuality, your plot should look something like this:

Formatting research. It’s a simple idea, but as a novice writer, there is a lot of information to sift through in regards to what should be included in the header of your MS, where page numbers should start, the actual font of your MS, and what the title page should look like and include. Authors use their own formatting in a lot of cases, but that’s because they’re allowed to. They’ve become accustomed to what their editor is expecting. But you, my friend, have not. Therefore, we must research. Find a copy of Formatting and Submitting Your Manuscript by Chuck Sambuchino. It will answer those questions whether you’re submitting a short story, a full novel, or an article to an agent or editor. Remember, the more professional your MS looks, the more professional you look.

World-building research. I’ve read so many manuscripts, especially paranormal, in which the writer doesn’t take the time to actually build the world they’ve created in their book. Readers want to know an era’s/world’s clothing, language, mannerisms, government, architecture, atmosphere, customs/traditions, and culture. Nailing down the details is what keeps your reader engrossed in the story and believing they are right there with your character.
Regency is a huge in the market right now and it requires a lot of research. This means reading history books, watching films in which the era is correctly portrayed, finding other novels in the same time period as your book and learning new words. Unless you’ve done your research, readers will see exactly how much time you took to get it right.
A word of warning: world-building research can become addicting. Never research more than you need to write about or you’ll never finish the book!

Character research. Characters make the book. This is the reason readers will pick up yours, so make them believe your characters are real. This includes setting your character’s goal, motivation, and conflict and not just for your protagonist and antagonist. Every character has an agenda. This is what drives your plot. Tell the reader what, why and why not. A great resource I recommend for every fiction writer is Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation and Conflict. Her tips will make your character multi-layered and believable.
You also need to paint a picture of your characters for your readers. A lot of writers actually find a photo that best suits their purposes and refer to it often to keep their descriptions clear throughout the book.
You as the writer need to know your character inside and out. Their job, their likes, dislikes, relationships with family and friends, favorite foods and everything else you can think of. Some are a little easier than others to construct, but either way, it must be done. Maybe you have a protagonist who is a cop. The best way to learn about your character and step into their shoes is to interview a cop. Find out how that officer spends his day, how many years of training he had to go through before he was allowed on the force, what tests he had to take. When it comes to the simpler things, Leigh Michaels has a great list of questions to ask your character in her book On Writing Romance or you can find it on my website
There is a similar warning here as with world-building research. Don’t get too into your interviews or studying. Learn just enough that you can confidently portray your character to your readers and not have to worry about inaccurate details.

What other research do you include in your process?

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