Monday’s Writer Confession: I Don’t Like Research (Except When it Doesn’t Feel Like Research)

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I’ve written fiction and I’ve written non-fiction. And I prefer fiction. Why? Because non-fiction writing is so damned hemmed-in by reality. Simply put, you can’t just make stuff up.

Reality can have a similarly dampening effect on fiction. It can intrude on the storytelling process in a way that make your stories less compelling, less suspenseful and less entertainingly weird.

And so familiarizing yourself with reality is an unfortunate part of storytelling. For a crime fiction scribe that means spending valuable hours understanding things like how guns shoot, what happens when you get arrested and how long it takes for a corpse to rot.

And I don’t like it. Telling the story is my favorite part of the storytelling process. Research feels like homework. It’s tedious and a lot less fun than describing somebody getting shot in the abdomen.

But I’ve discovered a loophole, a way to get around spending hours reading about something you’re not interested in.

The secret: Write stories about things you are interested in. Take those hours you’ve spent knitting or skiing or reading Steven Pinker’s science or Doris Kerns-Goodwin’s history and turn them into stories.

And no, it’s not cheating. Everything you’ve read, everything you’ve consumed, every conversation you’ve eavesdropped on counts as research. As an armchair anthropologist, endlessly curious about how humanity works – and how it often doesn’t work, I’ve spent much of my life ‘researching’ things like shifts in social mores, moral philosophy, crime, the dark side of humanity and jazz.

Maybe that’s why I write noir-ish tales of shifty characters who privately seek redemption and not police procedurals loaded with details of forensics and investigations of DNA. The research is just more fun.

 

 

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