Research is a constant writerly debate in my household. My husband will go to incredible lengths to avoid doing research for his writing. I love research, although I have an odd relationship with it. I research heavily for fantasy, but I’m horribly intimidated by the idea of researching for any kind of mystery or historical fiction, which is why I don’t write either of those genres, although I read both (preferably combined!)
That contradiction aside, why the heck would I do research for fantasy? To my husband, especially, this is incomprehensible – fantasy is the perfect setup, as far as he’s concerned, because he can just make everything up and not worry about how things work in the real world. I understand that sentiment, since I write (and read) partly as escapism from reality.
But it’s so exciting to do research for fantasy novels and stories! It’s not that I can’t come up with ideas and inspiration just off the top of my head for fantasy, but finding out things I don’t know about history, food, inventions, other cultures, religious rituals, animals, etc. gets me thinking about things I might otherwise overlook. Sometimes I’ll come across an idea and reverse it entirely, but even that reversal wouldn’t have come about if I hadn’t found the idea to contradict in the first place.
Some of the things I’ve learned more about while doing research, I would probably never have thought to read up on if it hadn’t related to my story, but I’m always glad to have found out new information. As a writer, the more you know about anything, the richer, more varied, and more interesting your basis for stories and characters becomes. It’s like you’re collecting resources that are then, literally, right at your fingertips.
Because of my writing, I read up on a lot of psychology theory – especially Carl Jung and William James, both of whom were also passionately interested in literature and philosophy. Some of their writings on those subjects have, in turn, expanded my views on fiction, both as a reader and as a writer. I’ve read up on the historical impact of technology on society, the history of various inventions, traditional foods and drinks of places I wanted to inspire my settings, mythology and legends that cross all over the globe – and now all of that information is at the back of my mind every time I sit down to write. If you want to be inspired, keep your brain well-stocked with ideas it can put together, pull apart, reverse, or just plain use.
That’s my philosophy on research, anyway. Oh, and I’ve also become addicted to olives thanks to research, but that’s a side effect you may have to watch out for if you’re reading up on the Mediterranean. Hah! That’s one reason to write what you love – if you’re interested in something to begin with, “research” is a great excuse to obsessively read about it, and if you’re researching a place’s cuisine, it’s a great excuse to eat a lot of tasty food (and drink coffee spiked with brandy, if your subject of study is Italy).