Someone once told me that fiction writers don’t need to conduct research, they can use their imagination. I wish that were true.
Unfortunately, getting facts correct is required in fiction writing, not just academic and non-fiction.
Have you ever paused while reading a novel and questioned if some detail is actually true? I have.
Research I conducted for my mystery series:
I wanted to write mysteries and so I felt the need to learn police procedures, so I attended a Citizens Police Academy program to learn about all the different departments in the police force.
Ride-Along with a police officer:
During my ride along, we stopped at the parking lot of a strip club. Police officers were waiting for customers leaving the club under the influence and so the police were spotting them and testing if necessary before they drove off.
Which is a good idea, I guess, but why a strip club?
It reminded me of a comment a friend of mine used to say every time we watched a movie that involved solving crimes. For example, Beverly Hills Cop, the police were in a strip club when they unarmed a criminal. My friend said, how come movie cops are always in a strip club?
Well, I discovered one night, it’s not just in the movies.
In order for the story to be authentic, experience what you are writing about. I promise not to put any strip clubs in my stories, though. There’s also the problem of being too cliché or overusing a certain scene in crime screenplays or novels.
I’m grateful I haven’t read this strip club location in novels yet. Although, I wouldn’t be surprised if I could find it in a novel or two if I looked hard enough.
I practiced at the shooting range with a police officer. I wanted to experience shooting a gun for the mystery series I started so I could be knowledgeable about weapons when writing about my detective and her work.
Scenario of Arresting a Suspect:
We played a scenario of how to calm down a suspect, even them being armed. I had a gun, and he had a knife. It was so realistic; I went into shock. I learned from this that I could never be a police officer. I didn’t handle the shooting range very well, either.
What I learned:
I experienced it and so now I could write about it. For example, I could start my mystery with the detective being a rookie and her struggles in training. I can use everything when I use experience as my research rather than just reading about it.
What I can’t experience:
My mystery is about a serial killer. I will not get any first- hand research for this. This is one exception with research. But there are plenty of movies and books about serial killers to give me ideas. A lot of knowledge about serial killers, I may have to use my imagination.
I prefer first-hand research over reading or watching it:
I prefer experiencing a location, food, drink, occupation, etc. I would rather experience it personally rather than read about it. It feels more authentic and that realism will show up in my writing. It is also a good idea to interview experts in the field.
This is a brief article about research in novels, but worth reading if you’re on the fence about the importance of research in fiction.