Fiction must read REAL!
Before we dive deeper in this topic I would like to mention something. All my posts in the ‘You are not born a writer, you become one!’ series are an attempt to help aspiring authors make finished or unfinished manuscripts publication worthy. If you are someone who writes for their own reading pleasure, you don’t have to put your work or yourself through this grind. Moving on….
‘One day I decide to make Shepherd’s pie. I go online and search for that recipe. Then I go to the grocery store. There I find and purchase most of the ingredients. To find out where I can get the remaining ingredients, I seek the guidance of the shopkeeper who tells me of a store few miles away. On my way to that store, I stop for directions at a PCO (for those not from India–PCOs or Public Call Offices are phone booths from where one can make local and international calls. They are usually run by smaller shopkeepers). Some random guy standing outside the PCO with heavily oiled hair, wearing a maroon shirt, slightly stained white pants, smoking gold flake (Indian brand cigarettes) and having crimson teeth from recently chewed betel leaves, gives me additional pointers to find this new store. I reach the other grocery store and complete my shopping list. I get home and make the pie which takes most of my afternoon and evening. I invite a friend over for dinner. She having eaten the Sheperd’s pie before, compliments me with an offhand remark that it is as good as the one she had in her last trip to northern England and Scotland.’
What I just did by writing that seemingly meaningless paragraph above was to introduce you all to something very important to any publication worthy fiction writing. The element of REAL! Even a fiction book has to sound real to connect with its readers. And this ‘real’ you achieve from research. You can make up characters, stories and events but you cannot achieve the real in your book by sheer imagination. And if you are planning to write a book with
characters that sound fake and descriptions that ring hollow, you might as well save yourself the trouble and not write that one.:) However as I know you are in this for ‘real’, lets keep moving.
Now in the copy paste of the same paragraph I shall mark out all the research undertaken.
‘One day I decide to make Shepherd’s pie. I go online (research on web) and search for that recipe. Then I go to the grocery store and purchase most of the ingredients. To find out where I can get the remaining ingredients, I seek the guidance of the shopkeeper who tells me of a store few miles away. On my way to that store (physical or in person research) I stop for directions at a PCO (for those not from India–PCO or Public Call Offices are phone booths from where you can make local and international calls. They are usually run by smaller shopkeepers). Some random guy standing outside the PCO with heavily oiled hair, wearing a maroon shirt, slightly stained white pants, smoking gold flake (Indian brand cigarettes) and having crimson teeth from recently chewed betel leaves, give me some pointers to find this new store. I reach the other grocery store and complete my shopping list. I get home and make the pie which takes most of my afternoon and evening. I invite a friend over for dinner. She having eaten the Sheperd’s pie before, compliments me with an offhand remark that it is as good as the one she had in her last trip to northern England and Scotland.’ (online research required to figure out where Shepherd’s Pie originated. The website used.
Now do pay attention to the person I described hanging outside the PCO. Why did he sound so believable even though he is completely imaginary? It is because he sounded ‘real’. One can easily spot people dressed in the above mentioned manner doing things that he was doing, around and near small shops. Now imagine if I had put Sachin Tedulkar outside a PCO. Would you have bought it? No! Why not? Sachin Tendulkar is a person, he is as real as real can get. Agreed! But what was wrong was the character placement. Mr. Cricket God in an airport, a fancy restaurant or a cricket event we would have bought but outside a small PCO smoking and chewing betel leaves in stained white pants? Good lord, no! My point being, even for an imaginary character the element of REAL is imperative.
Let me share my own example with you. I’m quite a fashion challenged person. However in my debut book, Right Fit Wrong Shoe, the male protagonist Aditya Sarin, was an affluent, brand conscious dude. Thus with gusto I immersed myself in thick fashion magazines and took copious notes. That was the research demanded by character authenticity. I researched on brands of expensive cars, motorbikes, clothes, shoes etc. At that time, armed with all that info., I could have put quite a few personal stylists to the rich and famous out of jobs. Oh well! :)
Next came, my second book Xcess Baggage which dabbled with the paranormal. Thus a person like I am, easily spooked by creaking doors and fluttering curtains, snuck and spent hours in public libraries seeking a new kind of ghost. A ghost/spirit supported by scriptures and other
non-fiction material. Amongst all the supernatural beings I read about, I
decided to go with Russalka, a mythological Slavic water nymph known to live in lakes and rivers.
A very popular case in example being James Bond – Mr. Bond is a fictional character with unbelievably fancy women and gadgets. However his drink, a vodka martini ‘shaken not stirred’ is very much an actual cocktail. So again in a fictional character you find elements of real. To quote my earlier post ‘authenticity is what makes your readers connect with your character and the story. That connection is an umbilical cord between the author and his or her target audience.’
Research for a book can also be required for places, location descriptions, weather conditions and several other things that go into enhancing the very important aspect of authenticity in your book. Research is extremely important for period dramas or any kind of timelines you might mention in your book.
Book related research can be divided in two parts. A certain amount of research is required before writing a book based on the premise of your story, and the other for fact checking when you are editing your finished manuscript. A very important writer’s etiquette; please make sure to credit the source you are using as a reference. If you are using another writer’s work please do not forget to acquire their permission before using their work.
Research maybe one of the most boring words in the dictionary to you, like it is to me yet it is this very boring word which is going to make your book so darn interesting. Therefore do not shy from it. Embrace it and use it to churn out your first or next best seller. The best!
A sincere request! I appreciate and love all the emails I receive after you all read my posts, but what I would really look forward to are comments on the blog. Writing these posts, trying to give out maximum possible information in the most interesting manner I can, takes a lot of my time and focused thinking. So please don’t shy from commenting. Without these comments I feel like I’m rambling. And rambling is something I would rather not indulge in on cyber space :))
8/7/2012 08:48:51 pm
Completely in sync-agreement. Fiction must read real (Fact-tion) as much as a non-fiction/biography ought to read like a narrative of fiction.
8/8/2012 12:43:05 am
8/7/2012 10:09:34 pm
Agreed....keeping in mind that you are an N.R.I., it was mind-blowing how accurately you described India......
8/8/2012 12:41:28 am
8/11/2012 11:22:32 pm
Wonderful post Varsha! A delight for all who are writing fiction or want to write fiction in future. Thanks
10/26/2012 04:44:07 pm
Fictional literature can help us explore abstract human experiences.
11/18/2012 05:33:14 pm
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