Why Researching Is So Important

A panorama of a research room taken at the New...

They have research rooms for a reason (Image via Wikipedia)

There is a reason why writers need to research when they write.  They don’t know everything.  It’s impossible to know every situation and to write about it correctly, or factually.  We’re not talking science fiction here, or fantasy.  You can get by with some discrepancies in those genres.  However, most fiction and such, you need the facts to be accurate.

Case in point.  My father started reading ‘The Wettest County in the World’ by Matt Bondurant.  Clearly, this man has not done his research, and both my father and I found it in the very first chapter, almost on the first page.  Mr. Bondurant is describing a boy helping slaughter a pig.  Now, for those of you who do not know me, which most of you don’t, I have helped slaughter pigs.  Quite a few actually, so I could write about it confidently, and accurately.

Mr. Bondurant made a mistake by stating that a bolt-action, 22 rifle shot, fired into a sow’s eye  from a foot away, would not kill it.  Nor would the next two shots into the head of the pig.  (for those of you interested, the book goes into too much gory detail for my tastes, and I’ve done the slaughtering.)   I’m sorry, but one shot, right into the head of a pig usually drops it.  I’ve seen it with a rifle and a pistol.  Several times.  Sure, there was one time my father aimed a bit low, and it hit more in the sinus area.  The pig didn’t go down but the next shot took care of that.

These are aspects that are crucial for a story to be realistic.  I’m not sure where Mr. Bondurant has come up with this idea, but clearly he didn’t do any research.  What, the pig had an iron plate in her head?  Considering the amount of blood mentioned, that wasn’t the case.

Did I mention the book starts off a bit bloody?  I’ll mention it again.  Just so you all know.

I’ve read other books where grammar was bad, and I didn’t stay with the author.  I’ve read some pretty ridiculous fiction in my time.  But most of the time the facts are fairly accurate. 

Writers need to fact check.  They need to make sure they know what the heck they are talking about before just sitting down to type.  I’ve seen so many out there that don’t fact check.  The other day I had some feedback from a short story I wrote about an architect.  Now, I don’t know much about architecture, but I kept it fairly basic and as true to what I know from looking at magazines and reading books.  The feedback was from an architect himself who said I had the feel down exactly for how an architect would be. 

So, even though I don’t know a lot about that world, I did do some basic research, and since I don’t know that much about that world, I didn’t go crazy and try to describe it.

If you have never been up in a rocket, don’t just start describing it.  Talk to an astronaut.  Never ridden a horse?  Ride one.  Talk to people who ride them.  Research.  And then keep researching.

Has anyone else ever found a book that wasn’t researched properly?  Do you like to research?

Writing on


16 thoughts on “Why Researching Is So Important

  1. I love to research! I write (unpublished) historical fiction and it is necessary. It shouldn’t be used as an excuse not to write, but sometimes the research can help balance things out and bring a new vibrancy to writing. Good post!

    • Thanks so much. Personally, I love to research because one, I know I’ll be getting facts right, and second, I always end up learning something new. You learn new ways to say things, and you start thinking in different manners. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

  2. We are definitely on the same wavelength here: “You learn new ways to say things, and you start thinking in different manners.” Exactly and Followed!

    I’ll be stopping by later to read more from your blog.

  3. I disagree about Sci-Fi not needing research. I think all fiction writing and some non-fiction writing, assuming a subject unrelated to the author’s own field of education and employment, requires research. I consider myself a science fiction writer. Some of my ideas are out there obvious Sci-Fi, others are near reality but perhaps viewed through a Sci-Fi filter applied on the camera. No matter what the case, research is required. My current project is a Fantasy (again, with a Sci-Fi lens filter as opposed to actual magic) and I realized as soon as I’d gotten my story synopsis written that I needed to research a great deal before writing. Sure I can write some of it, but all the fight scenes, whether sword fight or a clash of armies, all require research.

    As you suggest, if you haven’t done it and are not an expert yourself, research it. This includes both hard and soft Sci-Fi. Nothing kills a Sci-Fi story for me than an author who writes some explanation of the function of a piece of technology that is contradictory to current theory. It is one thing to take a current piece of technology or theory and take it up a level or five. It is quite another to fake it. I have two philosophies I follow: 1) take current tech or theory about how tech would work and push it into the fantastical, or 2) if its impossible by current theory, don’t fake it, just don’t describe it. If you took an LCD Television back in time to the 1700s, they would be at a loss to describe how it works, but they could understand it is technology beyond them. Instead of describing how it works, describe the effects an observer would notice.

    My point is, everything requires research, no matter what. There is no short cut I am aware of. If there is would someone please point me in the right direction?

    • You are so right, thank you so much. When I think of fantasy or sci-fi, I think, you just make it up, but there are traditional theories as to why magic works one way, and everything has a link. If you don’t know anything about that realm, don’t just fly and make it up. There does have to be research even in that area. Thank you so much for setting me straight.

      As per the shortcut…. I’d like to help, but I kind of enjoy the researching part.

  4. Your notion of research is clearly suspect, as you confuse anecdotal evidence with actual research. Because this never happened to you or your father it is not possible? You are mistaken. It can happen, and did. If you did research you would know that people have shot animals (and themselves) with much larger caliber weapons and survived, due to various factors. After this diatribe on “proper research” perhaps you should research irony.

    • Ah, so this situation actually happened that you know of? No, I do know that people have been shot, animals as well, and still lived. But how you describe it in the book would be a very rare case indeed. I’m curious, have you ever been a part of the experience of slaughtering pigs?

      • Old thread, I know, but I thought I would comment. I have been slaughtering pigs and other animals for a few years now, and have seen about a dozen animals shot in the head in that time.

        Ironically, the reason I found this article was because I was searching for alternate methods for shooting pigs. Because yes, I have seen a pig (one of those dozen) take SIX shots to kill. The first and the sixth shot were placed about 1cm apart, but the first shot did little but make it really mad.

        A friend of mine who raises and slaughters pigs also related a story of trying to use a .45 caliber pistol to shoot a boar he had raised. The first shot went right between the eyes. He ended up chasing a mad and bloody boar around the pen for half and hour, and eventually had to go get his .30-30 to shoot it in the heart.

        There’s no doubt that either of these animals would have died, probably within the day, without the additional shots. But I think a story involving a hard to kill pig is absolutely believable. I would take more of an issue with someone cutting the throat of a pig rather than the traditional “stick” but I can believe that might happen under duress as described in the novel.

      • Well, thank you so much for your comment. As much as anyone hates to admit they may be wrong, I completely believe you, and believe I was wrong. I suppose part of the trouble comes down to for me, I have never heard of anything relayed to me like this. For other people, it happened. Just finding all that information, well apparently I got it wrong. So thank you for your corrections.

    • It is clear, if you read news articles, that it is possible to get shot in the head and survive, even at point-blank range. It happens, but it’s important to note that a victim is far more likely to suffer a fatal wound, than the 1 in 10,000 survivable injuries. And of those who do survive, many suffer permanent disabilities.

      But do you really understand the definition of anecdotal evidence? She has witnessed it herself. That is not anecdotal evidence.

      Your argument is weak, and its obvious because had you had a strong argument, you would have immediately referenced your sources, refuting Kate’s statement. Instead you attacked her directly. You did not even acknowledge her first-hand experience.

      If you want to defend yourself, fine, but please, do it intelligently and with civility. For someone who claims to have an understanding of “irony” it seems extraordinarily ironic that you misused it.

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  7. Writers of memoir even do research — on their own lives. Walt Harrington, one of my favorites, was famous for doing this. Our memories, even of our own lives, are weak and it is too easy to forget many details.

    Research is essential. Authenticity is key.

    • Thank you so much for your comments. It’s very easy to lose sight of what really happened, because our memories are weak like you said. That’s why it is so important to make sure you know what you are talking about, and if you can’t remember exactly, let the reader know.

  8. Pingback: My First Hand Experiences In Slaughtering Pigs « Escaping the Inkwell

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