Friday, 13 April 2012

Research is necessary

In the interests of getting things right in a novel we, the author, must do some research.
I wanted to know if you could bend double in a Skoda. So I went to the showroom and tried it.
I needed to know if you could climb into a charity bin.That was a bit tricky but I found the old fashioned ones have a much more commodious chute.
Research makes the story more believable even when it is fiction. It grounds the action in the realm of believable life even when the character is doing something ridiculous it has a ring of truth to it and therefore can be visualised.
My new thriller had me stumped. What would my character drink. Vodka martini for Mr. Bond, shaken not stirred. How great to have that line. So I went in search of a drink for a spy for hire.
I tried Gin. It was very nice. And I read about some really expensive Gin labels. Exclusive. But does it have that masculine quality? Next scotch. It is more readily available all over the world.  But just about everyone drinks whisky or scotch in the movies. I bought a bottle and tried it in various ways. Rum? too navy, too Carribean and it can leave a nasty taste in your mouth the next morning, believe me! Not something my hero would want to have after just bedding the girl.
"Ooo, what died in your mouth overnight?"
Then I saw Tequila! With names like slammer it was a winner. I bought a bottle. Very nice with mixers and I read about how to drink it. I could see the sensual side of it. The salt, the lime, the licking of a hand. I had my drink, and I managed to polish off a bottle at home in the process.

Moisten the back of your hand below the index finger (usually by licking) and pour on the salt. Lick the salt off your hand.The salt lessens the burn of the tequila.

Research gives you the opportunity to write with confidence. You can bring all the senses into play because you have tried it. The smell, the anticipation, the feel, the look, the warm afterglow or what ever it takes.
Research isn't just what period dress they wore or who was in the papers at the time, it encompasses all the parts of a character, place, action sequence or feelings.
I once wrote a  story about someone going overboard. I jumped off a boat, I wore a lifejacket and mucked about. Then someone who had read the story asked me when I had fallen off a boat because they thought it was a true account. Research helped me get it right.

If you ask a few simple questions when pitching your protagonist into a situation,
1. is it possible. *ie will it work in the story. Think Alice down the rabbit hole

2. is it believable *or believable in the context of the story. Think Wallace and Gromit

3. can it translate onto the page. *it is no good dreaming up something if it is nigh on impossible to describe it

if you can answer these three then with a bit of research the writing on the page will grab the reader and propel them into the story...and try it for yourself


  1. This is a wonderful post. I concur absolutely with everything you say, except that, as a past gin & tonic man, that is the best tipple of choice if one wishes a tipple...

  2. Michael, why use the past tense? One never truly retires from drinking, but just takes a break.


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