Even if you are writing fiction, you may find you need to do research. You wouldn’t want to have Fifth Avenue in Manhattan running north and south. Your readers would call you on it. It’s more accurate to say it runs from northeast to southwest. I know that for a fact, I looked it up. That’s an easy mistake to make. I always do a bit of research when setting fiction in a real place. Especially if I don’t know the place well. I’ve never been to New York City.
The traditional advice is to write what you know. That’s good advice, but quite often you need to branch out. I’ve worked in libraries, factories and in a call center over my working life. That gives me an insight into those jobs, but the world is not only populated by people who do those jobs. Sometimes I need to have someone do something else for a living. So, I look into what a person does when doing the kind of jobs my characters have. Writing believable characters requires that you have them work in a believable manner.
The same is true for settings. It can be helpful if you know a little about the place where you set your fiction, if you don’t actually live there. Maps and others research can help keep you from making mistakes that can pop your readers out of your story. Research can also help you with occupations for your characters. You may not know how people do the various jobs they do. Research can help. Go to job search sites and read the requirements for the jobs. That should be enough to let you write a believable character doing the job. Even if it doesn’t come out in your story, learning something new is always useful.
So when you are planning to write a story, be sure to do a little research. You may find you have to readjust your plot and characters to make things more believable. It’s not only for historical fiction. I went in depth with physics in writing Accidental Colony. I wanted to know how long my characters would be on their own. So, I looked into how long it would take for a ship without faster than light travel to get to the planet from Earth. Then I calculated how long it would take a ship that traveled a bit faster than our current spacecraft. I did that to make the trip more believable. The numbers don’t show much in the story. But it forms the basis for the length of time they needed to wait for the supply ship to get to them. I am not a physicist, but I did the math.
Do your research and you will find that your stories will be the better for it. All your readers may not know the details, but there will always be one that does. Do the research for that one reader. It’ll make you a better writer.
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