Last year, I read a widely popular novel that had been published recently and I had to stop halfway and return it to the library. I couldn’t finish reading it. There was some content that not only rubbed me the wrong way, but also made me downright furious. The book was historical fiction/fantasy, with a Norse setting. And though I’m not a know-it-all, I have a fair amount of knowledge of the Norse culture to know that the author didn’t research. In fact, it looked like they had gotten all their information from the Vikings TV show (not a reliable source if you want to know about Norse culture). I won’t state the title of this novel, because I know people will get mad, but all of us are allowed our own opinions and mine was I didn’t like it.
So, why didn’t I like this novel? Because, it lacked research.
Research is important in many ways. Here are the four reasons why you should research.
REASON #1 – READERS WILL BE HAPPY CAMPERS
Let’s play pretend here for a moment, shall we? Let’s say you’re writing a historical novel set in the 40’s. You did a good job on characterization, your plot is solid and you’re already a best-selling author, so your publisher takes it without a second thought. But you didn’t research it, so you’re characters talk like post-modern millennials and many things that weren’t available at the time are popping up everywhere. Now lets say my sister, a WWII history buff, sees the novel and gets excited. It’s set in the 40s. It’s about a fighter pilot. She’s sold. So she picks it up and starts reading with fervor – only to put it back down again in disgust. She doesn’t like it. She’s lost all faith in you. Now, she won’t read anything else you’ve written and has put up a bad review on her blog with over three hundred subscribers. Now that her rabid readers have read the review, they don’t want anything to do with you or your writing either. Your sales go down. Your book loses its popularity. All because you didn’t research.
Now, this may be a dramatic example, but you get my point. Research is important. And just because you might be writing about a well-known subject that you know a little bit about doesn’t mean that you should write with just that tiny bit of knowledge. Go forth, and dive into research.
REASON #2 – MAKES YOU SOUND REALLY SMART
Remember how I said that the readers lost faith in you because you’re writing lacked research? Well, here’s the good news. You research that puppy to death and you’ll leave even the history professors impressed. People will think that you’re smarter than them and they’ll trust you enough to follow the story through. They’ll give your book good ratings and hey, maybe you’ll win an award.
However, be forewarned. There will always bee someone who doesn’t like your book. They’ll say it sucked and the review might leave you in tears. But that’s just part of the job of being an author. You can’t please everyone.
REASON #3 – IT WILL MAKE YOU FEEL BETTER
Trust me, researching a subject for your novel will make you feel tons better, especially when it’s something like Mediaeval swordplay. Instead of floundering with descriptions like “he hacked, slashed and fainted, then hacked, slashed and fainted again” you can write a more competent, tight battle and, with the knowledge brewing in the back of your brain you can not only get the descriptions right, you can focus on other important things, like the character’s feelings.
Researching my novel has made me feel better. I’m writing a book where the characters live in an Ancient Persian styled world and getting things like desert terrain and styles of clothing correct had made me feel not only smarter, but more confident in my story-telling skills.
REASON #4 – YOUR STORY WILL BETTER
Let’s face it. Your novel would flounder without the proper research. Even if books are being published without the proper research, you don’t have to join their crowd. They may be good books, but you can do better. You can write the best books. With research, your novel will take wings and fly. Without it, it will remain on the ground, and out of your reader’s hearts.
Research is one of the most important things for your novel, especially a historical or history-based novel. However, don’t get too caught up or bogged down with the research. Knowing enough for your story’s world will help you breathe it to life, but becoming consumed in the little details will only make both you and the story suffer. So, research your book, but don’t become so caught up that you miss the point of your novel – telling a good story.
Readers, tell me what you think? What other ways is research important to a novel?