IWSG: Research Rant

For today’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group, I’ve decided to recycle one of my older IWSG posts. Basically, this old post is especially relevant for something I’m struggling with right now.

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A few years ago, I was at a party with some fellow writers. A certain someone who wrote historical fiction made a comment about how important it is for writers to do their research, to make sure they get all their facts straight, “unless you write science fiction, of course,” he added with slight nod toward me.

I’ve heard this assumption before, and I’ve heard it since. I’ve heard it in writing seminars, I’ve read it on blogs, and I’ve encountered it in many casual conversations with other writers. Writers must do their research, but fantasy and science fiction writers get a pass. After all, they write about stuff that’s totally made up!

I mean, fantasy writers obviously have no need for research. They don’t need to know about different kinds of swords or armor. They certainly don’t need to know anything about farming, horseback riding, or medieval architecture, and I can’t think of any reason why they’d need to study military strategy. No, fantasy writers have it easy. No research required whatsoever.

As for science fiction writers like myself, why we have it even easier! Outer space is a land of pure imagination. Space travel requires zero understanding of Newton’s laws. As a Sci-Fi writer, I will never… not even once… need to know the difference between hydrogen and helium, between dark matter and dark energy, or between special and general relativity. Nope. Science fiction is 100% research free. It’s a good thing too because that relativity stuff is complicated. Have you seen all the math involved?

This historical fiction guy went on to explain that “world building” is what fantasy and science fiction writers do instead of research. “Listen, jerk,” I said, “that’s something I do on top of my research, not instead of it.” Okay, I didn’t actually have the nerve to say that, but I wanted to. I really wanted to.

So please, fellow writers, please do not belittle us fantasy and science fiction authors. We have to do research just as much as anyone else.

End rant.

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Today’s post is part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a blog hop where insecure writers like myself can share our worries and offer advice and encouragement. Click here to find out more about IWSG and to see a list of participating blogs.

26 Responses to IWSG: Research Rant

  1. I’m right there with you on the research! I write science fiction, myself, and just about everything I “make up” is grounded in background that needs massive research. More of a “Understand what’s happening now to follow it through to the next logical development” than random guesses.

    Liked by 3 people

    • J.S. Pailly says:

      Sounds like a good philosophy to me! I suppose there’s always going to be a little guesswork, but if your guesses are grounded in facts, your story will feel far more authentic.

      Like

  2. Scott Levine says:

    I don’t understand that attitude at all. It’s really too bad that people have it, and don’t give different styles of fiction enough credit. The research might not be obvious, but it adds an underlying depth to the writing that would be missed if it wasn’t there. It’s kind of like good music production: you don’t notice it’s there unless it’s missing. Keep it up, the details are the key.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Lisa says:

    I write fantasy and science fiction and I am constantly petrified that genre writers will tell me my science is not possible or my fantasy is not believable. No research needed? Pah!

    Liked by 1 person

    • J.S. Pailly says:

      Yeah, I’ve had that experience a number of times. With science fiction readers in particular, they seem to be more aware of science than a general audience might be. I’m a little less familiar with fantasy readers, but I’m sure they have similar expectations. The standards for believability are a bit higher, especially for devoted fans.

      Like

  4. Sing it! I’m am with you on this one 100%. Most of my work dabbles in fantastic creatures but without some basis in actual biology, they just aren’t believable. If you can’t make your reader question their reality, they’re not going to keep reading. I worked at a zoo for four years before I felt confident enough to pull off magical beasties.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Any writer needs to do enough research to make their fiction seem realistic. And beyond that, you never know when research will throw up an interesting idea that you wouldn’t have thought of yourself. Recently I’ve been looking at the science of artificial gravity to make a science fiction short story seem realistic, and I came across a weird biological side-effect that I think gives the story more flavour.

    You can get away with very little research in any genre if your readers will cut you slack (see 300 for example).

    Liked by 1 person

    • J.S. Pailly says:

      It’s one of my favorite things about writing, when some random bit of research gives my story a little extra flavor… or when I stumble upon something that inspires a whole story in and of itself. I agree that generally readers will cut you some slack, though. Nobody can know everything, so we’re all bound to make mistakes here and there.

      Like

  6. I have been working on a story that relates to your point. I have been researching the science to be sure that I am not depicting something that would be shown to be false or impossible within current scientific knowledge. I think if I write on the edge of what is known I could make it up because no one knows for sure that it couldn’t happen that way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • J.S. Pailly says:

      Even if what you want to do is not possible, your research can help you find an excuse to do it anyway. Star Trek famously did that with it’s transporters. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle says that sort of technology shouldn’t work, so the writers came up with a device called a Heisenberg compensator that somehow makes it work.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Very clever about the Heisenberg compensator. I am writing something having to do with genetics and it makes me wish I had the knowledge of a Michael Crichton or someone like that. You are indicating with your comment someone who had similar knowledge. If I ever get this story put together would probably need Beta readers with a science background who could tell me if it sounds believable.

        Liked by 1 person

      • J.S. Pailly says:

        Well, I’d be happy to do that for you, if you want. I have some background knowledge on genetics, though I wouldn’t say I’m an expert on the subject like Michael Crichton.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you very much, J.S. Very generous of you. I will contact you when I get my idea organized a little more. I will be focusing on it more now after finishing another short fiction piece for WEP.

        Like

  7. Juneta says:

    Yup, we do. Rah, rah! Research gives and fuels ideas too.
    Juneta @ Writer’s Gambit

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I think this falls into the category of stuff always looking easier from a distance, particularly when you’ve never done it before.

    Liked by 1 person

    • J.S. Pailly says:

      Perhaps so. In some cases, though, I think there’s a certain stigma against science fiction, that it’s not meant to be taken seriously anyway. At least that was the impression I got at that party all those years ago.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s the impression I often get as well. Someone a while back encouraged me to submit stories to a writing contest and I had to explain to them that, unless the contest is explicitly about or encourages speculative fiction, science fiction or fantasy stories virtually never fare well in them. It’s unfortunate, but being an SF/F fiction writer usually means giving up ever being recognized for literary accomplishment, at least under your SF/F pen name.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Anonymous says:

    Research in science fiction and fantasy is a must. Not only that, you have to research multiple fields of research at the same time and make sure that your ideas and concepts jive with the current accepted theories. And that is where the rub is; if something is based off of a theory and that theory is later disproven then your novel falls apart. By comparison; historical fiction is a little easier because you have the names, dates, places, and actions all lined out.

    That is on top of all of the world building that you have to do. On top of the plot you have to outline and on top of the species you make, the cultures you create, and the characters that you write dossier’s for. With how many thousands of pages spent in making a single book, its a wonder we don’t go insane from making just a single story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • J.S. Pailly says:

      Yeah, it can be tricky picking and choosing which aspects of current science you want to use. I ran into a problem with my current WIP. I’d set my story on a planet orbiting a specific star. Astronomers have since discovered planets orbiting that star, and none of them fit with the planet I described in my story. I had to move the story to a different, unspecified star system.

      Like

  10. chemistken says:

    I’ve always thought science fiction and fantasy required the most research. Not sure what planet that other guys is from.

    Liked by 1 person

    • J.S. Pailly says:

      Glad I’m not the only one who feels that way. To be honest, if I’d known in advance how much research I’d end up doing, I might have picked an easier genre.

      Nah, who am I kidding… this is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to write!

      Like

      • chemistken says:

        Heck if I’d known in advance how much work it is to write fiction, I might have skipped the whole thing. But now I enjoy dreaming up stories too much. (Still hate the writing part, thought)

        Liked by 1 person

      • J.S. Pailly says:

        Fair point. There are certainly easier ways to make a living. But like moths drawn to a flame, some of us just can’t help ourselves.

        Like

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