You wouldn’t think a fiction writer would have much to research—after all, we can just make it up as we go. Right? Well, not with my fiction.
My characters are your colleagues and neighbours. They read the same newspaper as you and borrow the salt from your table in the cafeteria. I’ve anchored the stories in the here and now because my fiction has an element of fantasy and I think it’s easier to believe the impossible bits if those bits are set in familiar and realistic settings. That requires research.
The research isn’t always extensive and it is rarely elusive, but it’s something I do continuously. In a typical day, I’ll look up things like, Pacific Northwest ocean temperatures in May; bridge clearance heights on False Creek; symptoms of hypothermia; and sunrise and sunset times in Southern California in September.
None of it’s rocket science, but each detail adds to the believability of the whole. For example, I don’t want to describe a flight in the dark when it would have been daylight, or have a character suffer hypothermia when the water temperatures would have been warm enough to bathe.
One of my greatest compliments came from someone who thought I must have spent a lot of time in an area where I’d set a scene. They knew the area well and thought I’d described it perfectly. In fact, I’d never been there, but I’d researched the hell out of it. I combed detailed street maps, contour maps, and a store-by-store layout of the streets. I Google Earthed it (yes, that’s a new verb—see what you can do when you write fiction!) and studied traffic cams until I knew the terrain.
My research isn’t perfect and I don’t use everything I learn, but it’s always interesting. Like the time I needed to know more about whips and found myself in a BDSM site looking at spanking skirts. Not kidding—you can buy those. That was an education!
So my fiction isn’t entirely made up. Some of the details are strikingly real. My job is to make it so believable that you’ll question the impossibility of the Gift and get swept up in the story. And isn’t that whole point of a good story? A great escape, even if it’s only between pages.