If you haven’t discovered Master Class yet, you have to try it.
Master Class is a selection of webinars by famous people from all industries (including writers) who share their experiences and techniques in engaging interviews. I’m making this plug for them because of one writer in particular, Margaret Atwood, whose segments were fascinating, erudite, and insightful – just as I image the woman herself to be.
One of the segments dealt with book research – no matter the genre!
Because my first publications are historical fiction, I think everyone would agree that research is key. Without accuracy in the details, you run the risk of alienating readers who know more than you about the era of your subject. My experience has been that coming across an error or anachronism in a novel sometimes ruin the entire book for me. I don’t like such things – and I try to avoid them with meticulous research on every level. I even investigate word origins and dates to ensure that I’m not using language that was unknown at the time of my story (please see my previous blog post on research, where I discuss etymology).
Ms. Atwood (a writer of fiction as I am) devotes one entire Master Class segment to research. It is fascinating. In it, she reveals her extensive explorations for Alias Grace, a fictionalized historical novel. She was as good as any detective. For the dystopian fictional (let’s hope) future of A Handmaid’s Tale she was equally as diligent. In that novel, the enslavement of women and the manner in which it was done is documented to have happened to women at some time somewhere in the world throughout human history. She did not have to imagine horrors. She incorporated real horrors into her work. That revelation was chilling.
I am proud of a quote from BookLife (a division of Publishers Weekly) about my latest work, A Peculiar Peace, in which they acknowledge “The attention to historical detail is evident in all elements of the narrative.” To my mind, there should be nothing less. I want my readers to believe they are living in that time, breathing that air, saying those words, experiencing that joy or pain. My philosophy is that realism can only be achieved when the foundation of the book is as accurate as any modern writer can get.
Research. It’s worth the investment. Just ask Margaret Atwood.