Writing fiction doesn’t seem like something I’d need to do research for. I’m really just making a story up, so all the answers are already in my head, especially if you consider that I mostly write science fiction, fantasy, and other less realistic genres. This is not true.
Research is actually quite useful. Real world knowledge is needed to keep the story realistic. Even unrealistic genres, like fantasy, do begin with reality. In even the most fantastic of fantasy stories I’ve read, basic laws of nature still exist. Plus, fantastic stories can be social commentary, an allegory for something realistic.
Science fiction benefits from research too. While the story is fictional, and I’m mostly designing and making up the technologies and phenomenon that occur, knowing at least the basics of the real science involved makes it seem more real.
Basically, whenever I want to introduce some real world concept that isn’t just common knowledge, such as if I have to discuss something technical in nature, I should do some research about it.
One recent example of when research helped me was when I wanted a character in one of my stories to develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In order to best write this character, I had to make the PTSD as realistic as possible, for which, I needed to research PTSD, find out the symptoms, how they’re generally cured, etc. I even found a couple online PTSD tests, and entered the character’s information into them.
Compare the depiction of PTSD I could produce with the research with what I would write using only my knowledge and other fictional depictions. While casual readers may not know the details of the PTSD symptoms, if a psychiatrist, or somebody who knows somebody with PTSD reads the story, and finds an unrealistic depiction, it can be very clear that I didn’t do my research.
Well, a little artistic license is okay. If something from the research makes it difficult to tell a good story, it’s okay to go against the research a little, but I should only do this if I feel it’s necessary for the story, and I should never go too far.
Even less important details need research. If I want to have the characters sit down and play a game of Euchre while they’re talking, I should at least understand the basic rules of Euchre, so the descriptions of their gameplay, and discussion of the game, are consistent. I don’t want to say they’re playing Euchre but describe a game of Rummy.
Other times, research helps with story ideas. I might learn some interesting scientific fact, or new item that I feel I could make an interesting story about.
And, of course, we can’t forget the other important type of research: looking at other fictional depictions of similar stories, studying how they’re pulled off, and trying to make mine better!
Anyway, that is all I have to say for now. White Rakogis, signing off.