Researching a Story


To borrow a quote from a fellow writer and friend, David Toft – easy reading is damned hard writing.
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Do you love to read? Have you ever thought about the amount of research the writer of your favourite book did to add background to the story? No? Then you should. All books need research, no matter what resource you may choose to use. I make use of my own extensive library as well as online sources like the News and Wikipedia, to name but two.
Ah but the story is the main thing I hear you cry. I’m sorry to tell you it is not. Without research the story will remain untold in a void. Obviously it’s important, but it is just one element. On its own it’s going nowhere without believable background information. And the only way to get that is for the writer to do his or her research.
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In my latest novella I freely make use of recent specific historical events which happened in the country where the story occurs along with other events in the Middle East, gleaned from the news, like the on-going conflict in Syria and mindless desecration of the mausoleums of long dead Imams sanctioned by Al Qaida in Sudan. But will readers pick up on these actual facts – probably not.
One character in the story is based on the most notorious figure in Egyptology of recent times – Zahi Hawass, and how he behaved towards the foreign teams he invited, to employ the latest technology in various parts of the Giza Plateau. When they discovered something which did not fit into the accepted way of thinking espoused by Hawass and his colleagues, he had them swiftly removed.
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The sad part is that if the writer has done his or her job properly, seamlessly incorporating their research into the storyline, most readers won’t even give it a second thought. And so at the risk of repeating myself, my fellow writer David Toft is perfectly correct when he says that easy reading is damned hard writing.
As readers, you would do well to think about that in the future…
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9 thoughts on “Researching a Story

  1. Well said. When a reader comes to a plot element or feature in a story that's incorrect, it destroys the mood and can even derail the whole tale. An author must know exactly what everything is like in a story, even if he doesn't put all those details into it. Research allows that grasp of subject matter.

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  2. The most difficult research job I have undertaken was for book 4 in the A Vested Interest series. In that book (Stones, Stars and Solutions) I had two competing teams racing around the world visiting thirteen ancient monuments and holy places. Not only did I have to research the locations but I also had to work out flight times and travel to and from the airport to the location. An extra constraint was that the routs were different and the teams must not meet. Add different time zones and the task was enormous!

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  3. I did exactly the same for The Seventh Age John. What amused me was when one of the one star critics not only accused me of misspelling the name of one ancient monument, but also that I had placed it in the wrong country.I hadn't… 🙂

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  4. I think a lot depends on the genre you are writing in Jack. For instance in fantasy the whole story can be made up including the background. In my children’s stories, I’m lucky that most of the story takes place as a fantasy. However, I agree research will be needed if I ever get round to writing that big novel…hehe!Carol 🙂

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  5. Jack, you are quite right that doing the research properly, i.e. primary source citations is important. I know that there are some who could care less but not the serious reader. But, unfortunately, serious readers seem to be going the way of an extinct bird species. I am amazed at how many rely upon unsubstantiated assertions rather than facts, proven that is, and don't know the difference between the two.

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