How can fiction writers tackle research?

Last week, I listened to three best-selling novelists talk about their research habits. They all stressed that every writer must determine his or her own best practices.

The first writer creates stories featuring a female protagonist. The writer himself is a man. So how on earth does he create a believable  character when his own lifestyle is far different?  He finds a model.  He happens upon a wonderful real-life character who inspires him as he goes on to create three novels with her personality as the centerpiece.

The second writer captures the local color of his culture and city with such exacting veracity that his books could be paintings. He does it by paying attention and listening. Whether he is in a coffee shop or visiting a school, he pays attention to the carriage and habits of the people around him. He is always observing. And remembering.

The third writer advises only doing enough research to suit the purpose. And she often researches her areas after she has written portions of her books.

Wait, what? She does just enough research to illustrate her subject, then refines and adds a little more homework after she knows where her story is going.  She says, and she is correct, that too much research elbowing its way into a story is disruptive, not helpful or enhancing to the reading of the novel. And she, too, makes use of every minute in a coffee shop, or in line as she waits for something to get rolling. Every conversation she hears is fodder for her imagination to rework or repeat.

So, dear writers, do as much research as you feel is needed for you to master your territory. Sadly, much of that information will never meet the readers’ eyes.

All the better for your writing to shine.

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