Research is possibly one of the most fascinating elements about being an author.
I’m not just talking about the fun side of research for erotic fiction. Obviously it’s satisfying to ask: so how many orgasm can a man have between cups of coffee? (The answer is 9. I’ve checked this twice). Obviously there is a lot of pleasure to be had from discovering answers to questions like: who makes the sandwiches during the intermission of a threeway? (It turns out that the man is expected to do this). Admittedly, the sexual side of research is endless fun. However, moving this topic briefly away from my genitals, I was referring to the more practical elements of research such as location.
Like others have said before me this week, research can be addictive and time-consuming. I’m a voracious reader and so I can spend too many hours (when I should be writing) happily reading about the place where my story is set. A part of me wants to believe that this is necessary research, and I’m absorbing the atmosphere of the story world through some sort of textual osmosis. However, whilst it’s possible that may be true, I always feel as though I’m really just goofing off.
Is this sort of research necessary? That depends on the writer and their intended reader.
I recently read the first 40 pages of J Carrell’s The Shakespeare Secret. This is not an erotic novel. On the back cover blurb it mentions a ‘deadly serial killer’ which had me wondering what other sorts of serial killer there were besides deadly ones. Cuddly serial killers? Jovial serial killers?
The opening of The Shakespeare Secret is set in
In contrast, I’ve read works that the legendary Lisabet Sarai has placed in Bangok and the
Perhaps the lesson to be taken from this is that it’s not about how much a writer researches but how cleverly they use it to colour the story world they create?
In my own work I seldom use specific locations. However, when I do, the research is always as thorough as my budget will allow.
For my trilogy of vampire stories I made the mistake of writing a proposal that said the stories were set in
Visiting all of the cities was never an option. I’m a writer and some days I don’t have the bus fare to get out of bed. However, with a reliable internet connection and a handful of travel brochures I was able to find out more about the location of my stories. I then spoke to friends who had visited the three cities and asked them about the places. It is possibly the first time in my life I have ever said to someone, “Please could I see your holiday photographs?” Unless another research project comes up, it will certainly be the last time I utter those fateful words.
Was this second-hand information useful?
I spoke to one friend who told me about the
Here, in the
Another colleague told me that the thing she most remembered about
Eventually, she discovered the cause of this peculiar phenomena. To keep their bicycles secure, it was popular during my friend's visit for cyclists to chain the cycle frames to appropriate fixtures but remove the front wheel.
Was this useful to my story? It’s neither erotic not a useable detail that could colour the plot. However, it added to the sense of strangeness I was wanting to develop – the sense of my characters being in a foreign and unfamiliar land. In that regard, I couldn’t think of anything more strange than to wander around a city of one-wheeled bicycles where anyone can lay their hand on a piece of ancient history.
All of which is my way of saying that research – whether it’s reading, surfing, making sandwiches at a threeway, or simply talking to friends – is an essential part of creating a credible story.