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  • Dan Heiser

Why You Should Research for Your Fiction Writing

This week we're happy to have a guest blog by author Dan Heiser!


How much research is enough research for fictional writing? The answer to that question is endless. For some, no research is needed, for others, years of research are required. As a historical fiction author myself, I spend as much time, if not more time, researching than I do actually writing. But my purpose today is to educate you on the importance of research for fictional writing even if you think you don’t even need it.

I can hear the groans and protests now. “My world doesn’t exist, I’ve made everything up. I need no research.” Oh, but you are sadly mistaken my friend. Even if your city, economy, and characters never existed in the physical realm of life, ideologies and structured systems work the same way in our world as your fictional world.

You may think your characters pay with silver and gold, a currency we haven’t used since the time of Christ, but here’s where your research comes in. What’s worth more? Silver or Gold? Per ounce or gram? Eventually you will find yourself going to the web and Google Searching this question. And there you go, you are researching!

As a historical fiction author, I’ve said I’ve spent more time researching history than I do writing; this may seem a bit exaggerated. I do spend a lot of time writing, I do. You don’t believe me? Well ask my publisher, she’ll confirm. I try to push a chapter a day. Some days are better than others. But I’m getting side tracked. Back to research. Now the ways I research are solely limited to late night Google searches and then returning to writing.

My research has a technical name, and you all learned it in Primary School: Educational Research. I spend my free time watching Documentaries, reading books on battles, reading articles on sunken battleships. I gather the tales spread about the events and monuments encountered in my novels and dig for their deepest truth, separating the rumors once spread about them and confirming the eyewitness encounters. Look at it as being a detective separating truth from fiction. Once I feel I’ve gathered enough research and concluded my own theories based on the evidence I have gathered, I write.

Then there are times when you totally absolutely mess up with the research. It happens to the best of us at least once. For example once when writing my book on World War I, I had done my research on the Battle of Arras. However, the year I was looking at was the wrong year and I had already begun my writing. When I went on Holiday I left my novel at home just to get away for a little. While on Holiday I returned to my research seeing if I could pull any new details I find and place them into my books. As I took notes one late night, after walking around the city in a blizzard, I discovered what I had written was not the Battle of Arras I was trying to portray. My research was focused on the battle of 1916 my novel focused on the battle of 1917.

I was caught between a rock and a hard place. I was just over halfway with the book and the battle, the most important climatic part of the book was wrong because I researched the wrong thing. In a way I’m glad I researched the wrong thing; because of this mistake the style of my book changed, but that’s another topic for another time.

In the end my point to this topic is this, take the time to research, make sure you understand what you are writing, and understand this: That even if the events in your book could possibly never happen, research a similar event, learn from the mistakes made, and implement your research as a guideline to your story.

Find Dan's books here!

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