Research and Realism in a Novel

Giving thanks that I can share my words with you.

It’s Thanksgiving Day in Canada. However, I am not in Canada, I am in The Netherlands, the third country since I left home more than a month ago on a strange sort of journey that is as much about pilgrimage as about travelling. Part of the reason for travelling is to research for a current book that is in progress. The second reason is to provide material for a new naturist book that will take advantage of what I learn about the places I visit in order to create a more realistic setting for such a new novel.

research at your fingertips

Research is fundamental for any story that has a reader willingly enter in to a story. Research not only adds the element of place, but when the research involves the people and the culture of a locale, then the reader gets to experience a touch of reality as if they were there with the main characters. Travelling to these countries is teaching me more than doing research online – Google Maps, Wikipedia, etc. – it is teaching me sights, sounds, smells, clips of local language, how the locals interact with strangers and so much more.

Since all my stories are always reality based, research comes first. It is different when an author gets to create a new place whether that place is on another planet, or some imaginary place here on earth. In those stories, readers suspend judgment about locale. With no expectations, there is less of a chance of messing it up.

For example, I wrote about the Camino. I walked the Camino. I read all about the Camino in blogs and books. The book about the Camino has been bought by several hundred people, some who have also walked the Camino, who intend to walk the Camino, or know of someone who has walked the Camino. There has been no negative response by those readers about “errors” about the Camino trail. For many of the readers, the story is almost seen as a memoir rather than as a novel, a slice of reality. Now that is a compliment for any author.

Now, before I stepped off the plane, actually before I boarded the plane, I had done many months of research as the last thing I wanted was to waste precious time trying to figure out what was an option for each town and city we would find ourselves in. I used interactive maps that allowed me to walk the streets and get a bird’s eye view of the places where we would find ourselves. We booked our accommodations which were located in people’s homes rather than in hotels so that we could be closer to the local communities. I plotted out the walking paths from train stations to our accommodations in order make the travel less stressful. The whole process has allowed me to be more present in each place.

Is this really important? Couldn’t I just put the action of a story into a known city and told a story without doing any research? I guess I could, but then the story would suffer. An author can only write what she or he knows. Where there is no knowledge, there are holes. The reader suffers and as a result, there will be fewer readers. When an author abuses the reader in this manner, the reader has a tendency to leave scathing reviews.

Naturist fiction follows the same rules. If the setting of a story is in the real world in a real city and country, then the author had best know as much as possible about the setting. Now, if one is writing about a fictional place, then the stakes are different. The setting can be more generic as long as it this fictional place has enough aspects for the reader to hold onto.

Enough for today. Tomorrow, I visit with my co-conspirator, Paul who is coming to spend the day with my wife and I in Arnhem. But that is a story for another day.

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