Thursday, 8 December 2011

The "Stroppy Author" has a blog post up

about the importance of doing research and getting things right. You can read it here if you are interested: and, if you are a writer or, like me, a would-be writer, then you should be interested. Getting things right is important. It matters to the reader.
I am always surprised by how much research can go into an apparently straightforward novel.
Cynthia Harnett, author of just a few children's novels, is reputed to have spent about two years researching each book. She did this in the days before the internet and without the resources writers now have. Even now though, were she still alive and writing, it would take her months of research to write the books. Reading them as a child I loved all the little details about things like sheep farming in the Cotswolds and Caxton's printing press. I do not think I even considered the amount of work the author had gone to in order to provide all these details although I was certainly in awe of the idea that I could actually visit some of the places where Nicholas and Bendy might have been had they been real people. Now I am even more amazed by it.
And I have amazed myself by what I am prepared to research in order to provide background or find out if something is possible - even when I am aware that what I am writing may never end up on the shelves of a bookshop or a library. The "Stroppy Author" is absolutely right when she says it is important to get these things right and respect your reading by doing just that.
I was talking with a school teacher acquaintance about this recently. Her views about the importance of reading fiction and mine are far apart. I believe it is very important for children to have access to a wide range of both fiction and non-fiction and that they should be encouraged to read it. Her view is that fiction does not matter too much. If children want to read it fine but really all that matters is reading for information. There are, she tells me, too many other things for children to do now. We are never likely to agree.
We are also never likely to agree on the importance of being accurate. Without telling her why I asked her how she thought an eleven year old boy might make his way (long distance) to Canberra alone. Her response was that he could "probably just get on a train or a bus". To her issues of age did not matter, routes did not matter, timetables did not matter. She shrugged them off as being of no importance. I asked her to ask her class the same question and, to her credit, she did. They came back with much the same response. One boy had however bothered to go to the internet and look up times and routes.
"It would be difficult," he apparently told his teacher. He was right. It forms a major part of the story his teacher does not know I am writing.
It should not be an obvious part of the story when I have finished but it has to be right. It has to be possible. It is why research matters.


widdershins said...

I read an interesting set of numbers on research as it relates to us writers ... with 100 hours of research you get 1 minute of writing. With every 100 hours of writing you get 1 minute of story.

Anonymous said...

I hope Widdershins is wrong Cat - you are never going to get a book finished! Chris

Nicole MacDonald said...

I research lots - and heck my story is on a make believe planet ;p There's plenty of research to be done, I think if you can pop a book out in a month and think that's okay to publish, you've got issues ;p Research is what makes a crazy story suddenly believable *grin*

catdownunder said...

It might be a made up planet but it still has to be believable doesn't it? I just really, really hope Widdershins is wrong - if not, Chris is right. I will never finish a book! :-)