I write fiction. I’ve published mystery thrillers. I’ve created the characters with the hope that they will take on a life of their own. When that seems to happen, as described by my reviewers, I feel I have succeeded. Fictional characters necessarily are born of traits familiar to me, whether they are part of me or my relatives or friends, or come from some long forgotten stranger.
I help bring life to my characters by placing them within a real environment, surroundings that resonate with the reader, perhaps places we have been or our friends have been. An accurate historical environment is important, too. And the tools my characters use, whether a gun or the internet, must be real as well.
There are two ways to accomplish this. Many accomplished writers teach “write what you know”. That makes sense. That which you know best is probably an area where you have expertise beyond most other people. And certainly your knowledge of the people in your life and the environments in which you were raised must exceed that of most others.
But there is a second way to accomplish this: research. Never before has there been such access to knowledge about things. And not just a passing knowledge, either. With the internet today you can find all the data you need. But beyond that, you can visit the place you are researching, by satellite and quite possibly from a street view. You can identify local plants, understand the local weather patterns, read the local news, listen to current gossip; in short, one can easily come to know more about a place than the people who live there.
Research and an accurate translation and restructuring of data allows the author to construct a vibrant and believable environment for his characters. When my protagonist describes the sunset on the desert, he is able to do so in the minutest detail, because I am watching it on a podcast or seeing it in a photograph.
Fiction is fiction. The medium allows us to be as creative as we wish. But it is our experience that suggests and colors our interpretation of that which we create. Research provides the experience and knowledge we otherwise may lack to paint a convincing, lifelike mural of words.