17 January 2015

Research: Is It Necessary For Short Fiction?

The actual question asked was But you don't research short stories, do you? How to keep smiling when you've just been given the cue for an eye-roll?

I'm at the polishing and finding-a-title stage of a long short story, or a novelette, or a novella, depending which piece of string you measure with. It started with a target of around 3-4,000 words but has come in at 17,500. Is this a problem? No, it means that I can market it as a stand-alone title. However, it would have become a huge problem if I'd pulled it all from my mind without the benefit of supporting research.

Note the operative word: supporting. Research helps a fiction writer create and maintain a world that is not their own, and worlds are much smaller than most new writers believe. 

The story is conveyed in the first person via a female character who is an assessor of paintings. I am female living my own first-person life, I've seen paintings in galleries and I've visited the sort of building where the action takes place. The rest can be fudged, right? Wrong. 

How the character thinks, how she views colleagues and clients, her background and training, the terms she uses, the elements she's looking for in a painting, her tools... these are what make her a three-dimensional character and not a cardboard cut-out tripping over her own gaffes. And it really matters when using first person viewpoint, because the reader is very close in to the character, not just hearing her voice but seeing through her eyes and sharing her thoughts.

Three-dimensional characters also have a tendency to wrap themselves in a three-dimensional setting, so the two become self-supportive, and contribute to the reader's suspension of disbelief. That's why, when I took a breather in the writing, I found I had twelve tabs open on my screen.

So no, I don't research short fiction - much.

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