When I decided to become a writer, I thought I’d write non-fiction because it paid better. I thought that, since I lived on a lake in the North Woods, that’s what I’d write about. So I checked out magazines that featured those places. And decided what my first article would be about. And started to write.
I soon stopped because I had to make sure my facts were right. That was before the Internet had arrived in northern Minnesota. To make a long story short, I soon discovered that research was so time-and-money intensive that I soon changed from non-fiction to fiction. I haven’t looked back and I haven’t been sorry.
But I soon learned that research is also necessary for fiction. All fiction. Even a story about a fictional universe must obey the laws of physics. But fiction isn’t real. So I wondered exactly how much research is truly necessary.
I asked around. I now know of writers who practically write a book of details about the world their protagonists live in before beginning the story they want to write. They spend a lot of time doing research. A lot! I wondered if all that time was really necessary.
Over time I learned that it was necessary only for the kind of writer with an inner compulsion to get all the details nailed down before starting. I believe that’s a personality thing, and I don’t have that kind of personality. So I learned that, for most of us, there’s an easier way.
Start writing. When you come to a place where you need to know a bit of background, stop writing and take a walk, garden, cook, or do whatever you do when you need to brainstorm. If appropriate, go online and look up a few details, but not too many because you don’t want to get bogged down.
When you have the background figured out to the point that it feels right for the story, check what you’ve already written to see if you were right. If your new thoughts about background are right, everything you’ve written will be right. A few sentences might need to be tweaked but not much because subconsciously you knew all along what the background for your story should be and your research is done. (You might have to repeat this a few times as the story progresses, but not nearly as much as if you tried to do it all beforehand.)
Then grab a sheet of paper, an index card, or appropriate software on your computer and jot down a few notes so when you next need to know the background, you’ll have a handy reference.
It works. You won’t have to write a book before writing your book and your background details will be right for your book because you’ll be filling them in as you write instead of having to fit your writing into an already existing, rigid and possibly wrong framework.