Monday, 5 May 2008

Research, and fiction

It is an extraordinary thing (although obvious I'm sure to all except me) the way that research informs fiction and changes its direction.

Several years ago, when I was writing a series of Just-Soesque short stories for children, I spent hours in the Zoological Society's library because I wanted the anatomical details of the animals I was writing about to be accurate by the end of the story. I didn't want to mislead my young readers, even in a piece of fiction, because I knew, even then, that if a reader finds something implausible, or worse, just plain wrong, she loses faith with the whole story - even if it's fiction.

In my research I read that a group of camels, seen from a distance
looks like a group of ostrichesand immediately the story changed direction and got itself published in SPIDER (back issues with that story, Ostriches, or the birds nobody noticed, aren't available online).

I've just been transcribing tapes of an interview with a woman who knew my great-grandmother and the things she told me about the friendship between my great-grandfather and my step-great-grandfather have conjured scenes where once there was nothing but sheets of blank white paper ... .

Research is better than inspiration, any day.

8 comments:

Lisa said...

As an avid reader, I appreciate it when authors take the time to do this type of research. It adds so much to a book. Just because a book is fiction doesn't mean that things should not be portrayed accurately. Of course, this doesn't apply when you're dealing with fantasy and magical realism. I don't think people always realize how much research happens before the writing of a book.

verbivore said...

Research is so fundamental and transformative, I agree. It can bring an idea to life, fill it out and make it real.

Angela Young said...

Thank you Lisa and Verbivore ... I didn't realise how much research writers did either, until I began writing myself, and I do feel a responsiblity to get it right.

And transformative is exactly the right word.

StuckInABook said...

I am now never going to forget that camel/ostrich confusion potential!

Angela Young said...

Simon, I know ... opens all kinds of doors, doesn't it?!

Writer Reading said...

This is fascinating and inspiring. I love the camel-ostrich comparison.

Angela Young said...

Because of the camels on your profile page, Writing Reader ... ?

Angela Young said...

... or Writer Reading ... ?