Friday, February 12, 2010

Newbie Question #19

19. Do you typically do a lot of research for your books?

I do... though the process is very different if I'm writing science fiction or if I'm writing fantasy/romance.

Remember earlier how I said that a good writer should be reading stuff all the time? When I'm writing science fiction, those things I've read in the past are often at least partially responsible for the germination of the idea of whatever I'm writing (novel or a short story.) Kind of like unfocused, pre-research. :-)

Science fiction often requires a person to have friends in specialized fields. I actually think that it's very difficult (though some do it very well) to write in your area of expertise. Physicists often make crappy science fiction authors because they know too much about how things really work and they have a hard time breaking outside of what is TRUE, acceptable or fact. Apparently, William Gibson famously wrote his cyberpunk novel NEUROMANCER on a typewriter. Often I think it's best if you know "just enough to be dangerous."

Because out there just beyond what is true, acceptable and fact is where the fun stuff lies. Here there be Dragons....

On the flip side, I think that books (science fiction or fantasy) come alive when you fill them with the bits of arcane knowledge you've gleaned over your lifetime. Like all those mysteries where the heroine is a knitter or a scrap booker or what have you, and your reader gets a glimpse into the life of whatever it is you're into. Because people read for a lot of reasons -- escape, yes, but to experience someone else's life, more, IMHO.

So it really helps make a book have life if you can offer up real bits of things. I once took a gun safety course so I could feel what it was like to shoot a big old gun as a smallish five foot something woman. People always talk about recoil, but I didn't experience it the way I was expecting and so being able to have an actual sense impression of spent casings (particularly smell), etc., I think added an extra dimension to my description. This is also, btw, how you avoid cliches in your writing. Cliches are shorthand for experiences, and if you have something different you can point out about something people have read a thousand times... it breaks through cliche.

Plus, research is fun. Just don't let not knowing stop you from writing. Find someone who knows what you want to know and talk to them, read books by people who have experienced things you want to know about, live a little, and then, make some sh*t up.

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