Research: The Key to Realistic Scenes and Characters
Depending on the writer and the writing project, some stories may require additional research to achieve a realistic, fictional universe. Nothing stops a reader from moving forward than a story that isn’t plausible.
Say a protagonist is a paramedic; however, she improperly performs CPR on a patient. When a story rings false, readers view the writer, the characters, and the events as unreliable. More importantly, they are unwilling to continue following a writer or character on his or her journey.
While we as writers know a lot about many subjects, there are a multitude of content we are unfamiliar with and have not experienced personally. No one, other than God that is, knows everything. Nor are you expected to. That is why research should be conducted.
Students often ask, “when should I do research?” Some writers like to research material before they begin world building. Others tend to research material as they build scenes or after writing the entire story.
Only you as the writer can make that decision. If you are the type of writer who prefers to outline material first by sketching characters and scenes, then doing a little research on important topics surrounding your story at the beginning may be the way to go. However, if you are like me and tend to compete with a neon screen until the words flow, then doing research at the end of your starring contest might be best. Otherwise, you might interrupt your momentum.
Another question I am often asked is, “how do I research material?” Research can be done in a variety of ways. IPhone users can ask Siri to locate the nearest paramedic or training course in the area. Drive there and you might find someone who is willing to be interviewed or shadowed for a day. Too lazy to get off the couch. No problem. You can google the profession, watch a Youtube video and/or medical dramas right from the comforts of your home.
The main question, students often ask is, “how much research should be done?” Believe it or not, there is only one answer to this question. And that is, you do enough research to aid you in creating authentic scenes, characters, and situations readers will believe.
I know that sounds too easy, but it really is just that simple. Think about it for a moment
If your scene calls for a character to know CPR, then you might watch a CPR demonstration or two before you are comfortable enough to let your character perform it. That is a brief moment in time you spent away from your story, and it was time well spent. What you won’t do is waste hours or days watching video after video about CPR in order to capture that one moment on a page.
So, what will you do the next time your story throws you in a whirl pool filled with people, events, and actions you have never met, never even heard of, or felt the need to read about until then? say put on your investigator/reporter hat and get moving.