Research: Needless or Necessary for Fiction Writers?

 

“Research… is like an iceberg. Only the tip must show, but the rest of it, the great bulk that lurks invisibly under water, has to be there to support it.” (Rhona Martin)

“Research… is like an iceberg. Only the tip must show, but the rest of it, the great bulk that lurks invisibly under water, has to be there to support it.” (Rhona Martin)

One of the best things about being a fiction writer is the freedom. Freedom to set the office dress code (running clothes). Freedom to adopt a late-late-night writing shift (I’ve never been much of a nine-to-fiver). And freedom to write what I am most passionate about.

And because I write “made-up” stories, surely I have an additional freedom: freedom from research—right?

Um, no.

While fiction writers are allowed to take some liberties, there are times when we have no choice but to check our facts. The last thing I need, for example, is a tech-savvy twelve-year-old discounting my entire novel because his mother, a Silicon Valley telecommunications expert, has explained how dropped cellphone calls work–only to find that the author got those facts wrong.

I can’t have my credibility going down the crapper–so I research.

In Vanish, my recent middle-grade release, I did extensive research about parental child abductions. Here is some of the information I learned:

  • Do not assume an abducted child is safe because he/she is with a parent.
  • Abducted children suffer emotional trauma due to their lack of contact with the left-behind parent whom they are often told no longer loves them or has died.
  • The social, educational and health needs of an abducted child are often compromised because of the abducting parent’s obsession with concealing the child’s identity.
  • Abducted children live secluded lives and often are not permitted to form any connections beyond the abducting parent.
  • Parental abduction is an act of anger; not of love.

While I don’t overtly state these facts in Vanish, they are among the “great bulk” that supports the story–hopefully grounding my novel and offering my middle-grade readers a richer, more compelling reading experience with their quiet presence.