All writers have a process that allows them to create. However, the art of "Writing" is often mistaken for that "Process." Hopefully this blog explains the difference, and inspires people to develop their crafts, become writers, or just keep on writing.

Friday, June 16, 2023

Sometimes, Don't Do Your Research

Before I get into the meat of this subject, a few details about me. For my career, I spent parts of three decades working in research. A part of my college major is research. Indeed, I truly love the research process - the investigation, the fact-finding, the cross-referencing, the analysis. Oh, the analysis - when it gets down to really digging into the nitty-gritty of a subject matter, I am the first one to start and the last one to leave. And, having said all that, there's a time when research will ruin your writing.

Don't get me wrong - if you are into non-fiction, research is kind of mandatory. And yes, some aspects of fiction benefit from a certain amount of investigation into some weird subjects: Is there such a thing as a .45 derringer? (yes) Can someone be allergic to spaghetti? (definitely) Were there photos before 1850? (yes - Daguerreotypes) The list goes on. However, there comes a point where we must draw a line, and that's when we venture into the world of fiction-fantasy.

As a fan of the Marvel Universe (both cinematic and print versions), I enjoy the mayhem and carnage along with the storytelling, but I accept that most of the mayhem is unrealistic, and usually impossible according to physics as we know it. Setting aside the whole superpowers thing, is it worth asking whether the Hulk could pick up a Cadillac by the bumper and pound a villain with it? In fairness, the Cadillac's bumper would just tear right off thanks to the weight of the rest of the car. However, that simple fact would get in the way of the action, so we don't study into the load-bearing factors behind the Cadillac's frame and suspension. We just let Hulk smash.

As writers, our main responsibility is to hold ourselves accountable for the fiction we create, make sure it is consistent, and ultimately make it believable. I have encountered a number of people who write genre fiction but get hung up on how mermaids reproduce, how dragons fly, whether unicorns shed tears, and so on. Since mermaids, dragons, and unicorns are established creatures of lore, these writers feel obligated to be accurate in their unicorn love story or whatever they choose to create. The part they are missing, and that we should instead embrace, is that these things are, in fact, fantasy.

Fantasy is a genre that gives a lot of liberty to writers and allows creativity to flow virtually unchecked. Sure, certain rules have to be obeyed if they are called upon - a human at the bottom of a harbor will drown. However, if a mermaid saves him with a kiss that lets him breathe water, we don't need to explain how or why, or fact-check to see if that's something mermaids can even do. We just need the reader to understand that's the world we are writing about, and let the actions sell the rest. (And no, I have no idea whether mermaids can actually save drowning humans. I saw it in a movie once, so I assumed.)

In the realm of fantasy fiction, the main point is to convince the readers how your version of the world works. If your vampires sparkle, your werewolves are polite gentlemen, or your orcs are just misunderstood, it's your job to sell that reality. Whether it's a part of someone else's lore is irrelevant. It's your lore now; make it believable.

I will not be doing a post for June 19th in recognition of Juneteenth, so my next post will be on June 23rd.        

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