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How important is research in fiction? Award winning author Charlotte Boyett-Compo tells us how much.

Research: if You Build it, They Will Know!
Charlotte Boyett-Compo

She sat beneath the umbrella, intently watching the rain as it pummeled the sidewalk. Rodeo Drive was alive with traffic at this time of the late afternoon: wives picking up their husbands from the Trade Center Towers, the TransAmerica building, the Astrodome. Chicago was being washed clean in the spring rain as the commuters made their ways back to New Rochelle and Chevy Chase. The blare of a horn made her look up and she smiled at the bright orange 1975 Yugo as it ambled down the street. It was the same car HE used to drive.

Okay. So what's wrong with that picture?

Many of us have been guilty of mixing metaphors and slaughtering the Queen's English, but I hope not too many of us have been guilty of creating the nonsense you've just read.

If you are going to write about a town, use it as the setting for your novel, at least have visited there. Perhaps a reader in Timbuktu might not know that the Astrodome isn't in Chicago, but chances are everyone else will. The same holds true with the Trade Center Towers and the TransAmerica building. Putting those landmarks anywhere else but were they belong will not only make you look stupid, it will crush any chance you might have to become a professional writer and be taken seriously.

The same holds true with blatantly changing history and 'rearranging' geography.

I recently received a letter from a lady who had just finished reading one of my novels. She took exception to a description of the Lucifus River, telling me it ran East and West, not North and South as I had insinuated in the story. She went on to explain several more mistakes I had made in having two countries share a common border.

Now, that is all well and good. I welcome creative criticism if not actually embracing it. Had the countries upon which she had based her geography lesson actually existed, I would have been mortally embarrassed to have made such glaring errors. Fortunately, for me at least, neither the countries nor the river exists anywhere except in my fertile imagination (and apparently hers, as well!). If I want the river to run North and South, it will run North and South. Had she been paying closer attention, she would have seen a very strong resemblance between the Lucifus River and the Rio Grande; Serenia and Virago looking a whole lot like England and Germany.

If you're like me and hate to do a lot of research, you'd better learn how to create entire worlds where no one but you and your characters have trod. Erect buildings that don't require the laws of psychics to keep them standing. Give your characters strange and exotic looks and internal organs that can be rearranged at will. Develop speech patterns and invent languages where misspelled words aren't noticeable to the average reader. Plan out entire communities and generations of characters who just might be related by incest if you forget and marry one of them to the wrong guy.

Otherwise . . .

Research your facts!

You remember what research is, don't you? It's that boring, tiresome, tedious gathering of necessary information which will flesh out your story; give credence to what you write; place events and history in the proper order, the proper place, and the proper time. Research is the eggs in the recipe which holds everything together. Try making a cake without eggs and see what happens. Not a baker? Well, it falls apart, my friend. As will your story if you try mixing your geography, time periods, and history.

Research might be boring, but I will guarantee you this much: While you're in the library or squinting away at the computer trying to find some minuscule, esoteric reference, you'll be amazed at the wealth of inconsequential, peripheral knowledge you will acquire. Research can open up entirely new worlds of thought and exciting possibilities for future great works of art. Never close yourself off to research; we can all learn a bit more about this world in which we live.

But, as I said, if you are lazy like me, try inventing a few worlds of your own. But be careful when you do. You might not want to have your heroine in love with a guy who would be caught dead in a 1975 Orange Yugo, but neither would you want him to be laughed at for driving a vintage 1983 Lexus!

. . . . . . .

Charlotte "Charlee" Boyett-Compo is the author of over thirty books, the first nine of which are the WindLegend Saga which began with THE WINDKEEPER. She was the first author to be published by Twilight Times Books, now Dark Star Publications. Recently, Charlee won Inscription Magazine's 2000 Engraver Award for Favorite E-Author and The Writecharm's Simply Charming Award for promoting e-books and their authors worldwide. Her sci-fi/futuristic novel, BloodWind, stayed on Dark Star Publications bestseller list for over 18 months and has now been released in paperback. It was named as one of the Best Books of 1999 at eBook Connections as was her dark historical, In the Wind's Eye. Her psychological thriller, In the Heart of the Wind, was recently nominated for a 2000 R.I.O Award and has been named as one of the Best Books of 2000 at Inscriptions and was awarded a Reviewer's Choice Award at Scribe's World.


For more information about Charlee and where you can purchase her books, visit her website
Read a dowse interview with Charlee

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