The RESEARCH factor

Research_Hero

How could I go through a whole range of science-fiction topics without mentioning research? It’s the main source of nourishment and inspiration, and it can sometimes be just as fun as writing the story.

Okay, admitted, it’s also extremely easy to get lost in research, get entangled in wild speculations and come up with 10 new story ideas instead of the solution to your current story conundrum.

How much research is enough? How much is too much? And is it the right kind of research for our story?

The short answer to this is that each of us does research in his own way. Some need to go into details before they understand something well enough to feel confident putting their own spin on it. Others are satisfied with a broad picture and a few logical connections, from where they can launch into wild speculation (me, *cough*). Others are regularly jumping from one topic to the next, starting with fission reactors and ending with the Battle of Austerlitz, if they end at all. And some people are simply not researching. They’re usually the genre’s dayflies.

Some stories require a lot of research, fact-checking and calculations, especially those where an error could crush the premise and kill the entire story, while other stories only require marginal research, enough to convey some depth to the setting or character backgrounds, but nothing beyond name-dropping and casual mentions of scientific stuff. It depends on the subgenre, of course; hard sci-fi and sci-fi romance have little in common when it comes to research. Unless you write about passionate fondling of gadgetry, which is a perfectly genuine sci-fi topic if you ask me. It is!

A little research goes a long way. That’s the ultimate truth.

It can make your world seem more real if you mix facts with your inventions. It can entice readers to want to know more, and isn’t it just amazing if we can animate even a single person to go learn something new? It can be a contributing factor in the story’s uniqueness and impact, and it can open the door to subsequent elaboration in sequels or other stories. Or fan-fiction. An interesting fact is like a seed — it can always grow to become more, if it meets fertile ground. Of which we certainly have enough in our minds, we creative types. And yes, I basically mean our heads are full of dirt, and sometimes manure.

Our only law should be — We do what the story commands. Not just when it comes to research, but in general.

How much research do you usually do for your stories?

What was the weirdest thing you ever researched?

Mine was on parasitic organisms that change the behavior of their hosts, including the infamous Cordyceps that zombifies ants, which I wanted to endow an alien species of mine with as a sort of self-protection mechanism. I was fascinated by my findings, but ended up leaving it out of my story. Which isn’t to say I’ll never use the principle in the future. 😉

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          This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge, April 2014.          

In 2012, my R post was — Reincorporation Rocks!

13 Replies to “The RESEARCH factor”

  1. I’m writing a story that involves cells, and right now I’m riding on the knowledge from ninth grade honors bio. I should probably do some more research, but I’m afraid that something is going to ruin the whole story. And sometimes I convince myself that I already know everything. . . 😉

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    1. Yeah, going too deep into research has a tendency to spoil the fun of speculation and invention. I shouldn’t say that, but yeah, that’s what happens to me sometimes too.

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  2. I think research needs to include the facts. All of them. As in: If I can look it up and find out that you have a fact wrong, you have not done your research well enough. [A good example of this is the movie Gladiator. The amount of stupid in that movie because of historical inaccuracies is egregious.] So, for someone who writes sci-fi, go as far as the facts take you before you begin the speculation. [One of the areas that is most abused, right now, is nanotechnology. People ignore the actual science of it and treat as science-magic.]

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    1. I agree for the most part. However, not all genres require such heavy research, at least they don’t require the writer to know everything there is to know on a topic before he begins speculating. Especially if the research will not be woven in, and included in the story. For example, a space opera with FTL travel that never goes into any detail as to how that FTL travel works, and how the engines are built or what scientific specifics they’re built upon, doesn’t require the writer to go beyond superficial research and a thorough story-science background work.

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      1. All FTL travel is speculation at this point, so the only research that would be needed would be if you were using a particular theory of FTL. Like, if I wanted to deal with warp fields, I ought to know that the current method of doing that is with lasers.

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  3. Personally I love research. In fact I almost always have a difficult time pulling myself away from it to get down to business.Once you get started down that path you’re almost certain to find something interesting along the way that takes you in an unexpected, and exciting direction. Thanks for sharing Veronica.

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    1. Fact checking can make you jump from article to article and find the craziest things for your story, that’s true. Thanks for stopping by to comment, Allan!

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  4. Just stopping by from the A-Z list to say “Hi” and good luck with the rest of the challenge 🙂

    I haven’t had to do much research before, but the novel I’m just about to start will need loads. Im really looking forward to it xx

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  5. I write fantasy novels so I am always researching something – castle construction, military life, sword play, poisons. Of course working with a made up world where magic and magical creatures are the norm makes it easier to write about these things without having all the “facts.”

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    1. Fantasy needs research too, since it can use a lot of modified aspects of past human societies. But you’re right, it’s not as demanding as science-fiction. 🙂

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