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The Importance of Research in a Writer's Journey

25/02/2024
The Importance of Research in a Writers Journey scaled

If you want to be appreciated by your readers, it’s absolutely essential that you get your facts right. Not only does this apply to non-fiction writing, but also it’s very important for fiction writers. So, whatever genre you are writing in, make sure you sound authentic. Your readers need to suspend their disbelief for a few hours as they are drawn into your story or non-fiction piece. Even authors of fantasy need to be grounded in reality. Your story needs to be believable so the reader can identify with your characters and be drawn into your story.

How can you sound authentic?

The Role of Active Research

First prize is to visit the place you are writing about yourself. Once you’re there, jot down details of colours, shapes, sounds – in short, notice the detail. Absorb the atmosphere. If you can, re-visit the place if you haven’t had time to take in all the details. Four of my YA novels were inspired by memorable places I had visited: The Seekers was written after visiting the fascinating town of Nieu Bethesda in the Karoo, where Helen Martin’s Owl House boasts a range of iconic striking cement and glass sculptures. Whilst the settings for the three books in my YA trilogy were written in response to my holidays in Namibia and Egypt, respectively. Although all four books were written many years after I had been to these places, I enjoyed drawing on my still vivid memories of my unforgettable trips.

Library and Internet-based research

Of course, visiting a place in person is not always possible. So the second prize is to visit your local library or search Google. For example, if you are writing historical fiction or a family history, you need to be careful about getting your facts straight. What political events of the time were impacting your characters? How big were the towns, cities or villages where they lived? Who else lived there? What did the buildings look like? What clothes did the people wear? What food did they eat?

              One of the qualities of an author is a curious, inquiring mind. If you’re setting a story in a particular place, you’re bound to ask a host of other questions regarding the places, people and historical background so that your characters will sound real as they draw you with them into their story. Every detail needs to be correct, so if you can’t visit a place or if the events in the story happened a long time before, then meticulous research is an important factor to authenticate your book. Readers will love it if they can get a true and believable picture of events and characters. They’ll love it even more if, after reading your book, they feel they’ve actually visited the place for themselves. How satisfying to have a travel adventure when you haven’t even left your house.

My Own Experience

Since the early days of my writing career more than three decades ago, I’ve been researching people, places and events. I’ve ventured into places I wouldn’t have dreamt of setting my foot in, like township schools in Soweto and Alexandra during the early ‘90s. Friends thought I was crazy going into ‘unsafe places’, but, like journalists, I was looking for genuine stories that would touch the hearts of my readers. I backed up these expeditions with library visits and Google searches.

              One of my most challenging recent projects was to extensively research the bible to capture some of its key concepts – from Genesis to Revelation – in as few words as possible. A ‘summary’, if you like, on which to meditate. And so, my book, Mighty Master Plan and Significant Signposts, was born. The minimal words – which include biblical quotes – and strikingly meaningful illustrations don’t necessarily suggest all the careful research that was involved in writing that book – or how many times I read through the bible before I created my four characters, a small girl, a pastor, a sceptic and an angel, who debate significant issues and interact with each other.

Even though it may seem like an overkill to you, make sure you do diligent research for any book you write so your readers can be on the same page.

Happy researching – and happy writing – in that order!

Breath of God by Gillian Leggat
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