One time, I was at a book signing, sitting next to my writer buddy Brent Lewis. A lady came up, looked at the books we had available, and asked prices. “How come that,” she said, pointing to Brent’s 120+ page non-fiction Remembering Kent Island, “costs more than that?, referring to my 600+ page novel Dragontamer’s Daughters. As if page count should be the sole determinant of a book’s price.
“Well,” I told her, “Brent’s book costs more because he actually had to do real research and get facts. I just made stuff up.”
(If I recall correctly, she bought a copy of his but not mine. Serves me right for being a smartass)
While it’s true that as a fiction writer, I just “make stuff up,” nevertheless, I often do research for the sake of verisimilitude. That is, I want what I write to seem likes it’s real or believable. Why? To maintain readers’ suspension of disbelief and keep them invested in what they’re reading.*
*I must thank the late J.R. Salamanca, the best writing professor I ever had, for imparting on me the importance of verisimilitude.
One of the ways to break suspension of disbelief and remind readers that it’s “just a story” is to get wrong a fact they know. For example, if the protagonist is in Africa and goes on a tiger hunt, you just lost me, because I know that tigers are only found in Asia. See what I mean?
My next book, In Lonely Lands (or ILL, as I like to refer to it) is a young adult modern-fantasy/horror novel about a high-school girl, Alyx, whose boyfriend Sam is abducted by a monster and taken to a nightmare realm, into which Alyx follows.
Some of the research I’ve done for it is crucial to the story, some is background material, some I’ll use only as a passing reference. And some…well, some is downright odd.
Presented without context (so as to avoid spoilers), here’s what I’ve been looking up so far:
- Kawasaki Ninja 250R motorcycles (and what it’s like to ride them)
- Motorcycle licenses for minors in the state of Maryland
- Courses available at Virginia Tech
- Cerebral palsy
- U.S. military bases in the Philippines and South Korea
- Daegu, South Korea
- 9-1-1 operator scripts
- Roads of Centreville, MD
- Musicians and music groups whose name start with “A”
- Musicians and music groups whose name start with “C”
- How to open cans without a can opener
- Beothuk (aboriginal people of present-day Newfoundland)
- Norse settlements in the New World
- Genie Wiley (Follow this link only if you’re wearing some Kevlar emotional armor)
That list may look incongruous, but trust me, it all fits together. If it looks like an awful lot for one book, bear in mind that this isn’t anywhere near all of it. I suspect that if you ask other writers about the research they do, they’ll tell you that 1) they do quite a lot; and 2) it can be all over the place, just like mine is.
More about In Lonely Lands later…
Kenton Kilgore is forging a new direction in young adult science-fiction and fantasy. His latest work-in-progress is In Lonely Lands, a modern-fantasy/horror novel, to be published in fall 2016.
Kenton is the author of Dragontamer’s Daughters, based on Navajo culture and belief. He also wrote Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.
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