I have a confession to make. I really (reeeeally) enjoy watching The Big Bang Theory and have done for some time. It’s nerdy, it’s funny, I’ve watched a large number episodes multiple times and I like it a lot.
There, I’ve said it.
Anyway, the reason I’m bringing it up today is because I’ve been pondering the idea of writing a post here about why thorough research is important in creative writing and it just occurred to me that the reason I think it is so important is because I believe that it is the details we include in our writing that turn a story from something fictional into seemingly more real.
The somewhat loose connection to The Big Bang Theory here is that Sheldon also thinks that the details (when telling a lie) are a really important part of making a lie or story seem more real.
For example, as taken from S1E10 The Loobenfield Decay:
When it comes to writing realistic fiction, in particular, detailed research helps writers to draw readers into the story. These days it is easier than ever to set your story anywhere in the world, thanks to Googlemaps, images, Facebook holiday snaps and so forth. You can quite easily describe the Eiffel Tour in Paris, Buckingham Palace in London or Central Park in New York, just from looking at the pictures. But I believe it is the finer details, such as street names, the feeling you get when you first see one of these landmarks, and the local knowledge of different neighbourhoods and culture that really helps to place a reader right in your story.
With Diary of a Penguin-napper, a lot of my research was centred around (no surprises here) penguins. I researched different species, different zoos in Australia and different habitats found at these zoos. I went to several Penguin Feedings, I interviewed a penguin keeper at Taronga Zoo and I did a lot of fact checking online. At first, I just made notes here and there in various notebooks, but as the facts and ideas piled up, I needed a better way of keeping track of what information I had and, just as importantly, where it was coming from.
My top five research tips for creative writers:
– Don’t assume you’ll remember everything (or anything) from a particular experience. When I spoke to the keeper at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, I was so nervous that I wouldn’t have remembered anything without …
– The voice memo tool on my phone! I recorded an entire penguin feeding and then the Q&A with the keeper afterwards. It goes for about 15 minutes altogether, but listening back I picked up on lots of things that I didn’t catch the first time.
– Make lots of notes and organise them. My inner nerd likes to have them organised with the date and place at the top of the page and plenty of dot points. Write down key words you used to find certain information, names of people and web addresses. All are very helpful when you are trying to fact check later!
– Take lots of photos Whenever I visit a zoo or aquarium I always try to take my camera (and have my phone as a back up) and take lots of photos. I now also take photos of signs around the place with pictures or facts on them, as these can often be useful later too.
– See what you can find online When I was writing my very first draft of Diary of a Penguin-napper, I hadn’t seen a penguin feeding since I was a kid. This was one of the first videos that I watched and if you watch it and read the book, you’ll quickly pick up on the research I collected from watching it many, many times. It is a bit dated now and the penguins in Melbourne Zoo have since had an amazing new enclosure built for them, but there are still a lot of similarities. I guess the way penguins are fed hasn’t changed too much. I wonder if this keeper knows that her penguin feeding was in the inspiration for the character of zoo keeper Sasha doing a penguin feeding?
And whatever you do, think of Sheldon and remember that details will make your story more believable and hopefully more real to your readers! Happy researching (and don’t forget, it is only 5 days until you can check out all of the great penguin stats in Diary of a Penguin-napper for yourself! Enter the free book giveaway while you are waiting!)