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|New River Gorge Bridge, West Virginia|
Of course, it's worth remembering that all the research in the world does not a novel make. It's possible to fall into the trap of researching too much, and ending up with writing which is fact-heavy and lifeless. The aim is always to use what you've gleaned from research judiciously in your writing to enrich and enhance the reader's experience - not to beat them over the head with how clever you are.
The kind of writing areas which appeal to me have often called for research. Sometimes alot, to get a complete picture of the historical and cultural makeup of a particular place at a particular time. Sometimes just a little, to add regional flavour or authenticity.
As I have a background in history and modern languages, I like the linguistic and cultural richness that awareness of these can add to a creative project. Research is something I enjoy, and I like knowing I've put my best endeavours towards getting something right, even though I write fiction. I think people subconsciously learn a great deal from books, fiction as much as non-fiction, so it's my job as a writer to be accurate when I'm writing about the real world.
In writing my last novel, I made extensive use of the internet (particularly that fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia) and Google maps to give me a feeling for places and things I had no prior knowledge of. Among other things I researched lunar astrology, tarot and palmistry, locations in West Virginia and the New England region of USA, the workings of unpowered gliders, indigenous wild animals, trees and birds of continental United States, hydrogen cyanide, blood chemistry, and much much more. Hopefully it'll all add richness and texture to my writing...and at the very least, I'll know that (to the best of my knowledge) what I've written is accurate.
Of course, researching cyanide, explosives and poison gases may also land me on some terrorist watch lists, but hopefully they'll let me off after they read my novel.
Do you do all your research first, and write later...or do you only stop to research something when the writing calls for it? (I usually take the second option, and sometimes end up getting a little distracted in the process...)
What's your take on factual accuracy in fiction, and in which weird and wonderful research directions has your writing taken you?