The Importance of Research in Fiction

I am an advocate of research for any book genre. Fiction is no exception. I can not think of a form of fiction where research is not desirable, even for works in which the entire content is a figment of the author’s imagination. Any story must be plausible. Most readers desire to connect the dots in some way from their current reality to the story they are reading. As a reader, the world I am invited to enter must make sense in some form or another. Whether the author’s research is into distant galaxies or the layers of the human mind, something can always be found to help connect those dots.

In my crime mystery series every novel involves hours of research. This is particularly so as each novel takes place in a different physical location in the American West. Particulars of these locations and the inhabitants and their culture must be accurate to best support the action. My last novel, CANAAN’S SECRET, is a good example.

CANAAN’S SECRET brings us to the Arizona Strip adjoining southernmost Utah, where giant red cliffs dwarfing human structures announce the gateway to the majesty that is Zion. Here dwell communities of Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints with their not quite buried history and current conflicts and the Kaibab Paiute Indian tribe and their history with the Mormons and the far longer history that is their own. Eclipsing both is the history of the physical landscape itself on dramatic display before one’s very eyes. When I drove through the area and a plot began to simmer in my mind, I sentenced myself to hour upon hour of research.

The Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints have a complicated background, and likely a future just as complicated. The FLDS community of Colorado City straddles the border of Utah and Arizona. The Utah portion is named Hildale but now the whole community on both sides of the border is called Colorado City and the police department and other services have that logo on their trucks and badges. But Arizona and Utah have different approaches in some particulars. One result is a Colorado City Sheriff’s Deputy who lost his law enforcement standing south of the border for misdemeanors not considered such north of the border, misdemeanors related to multiple wives and child brides.

An historic piece, the parts played by the early Mormons and the Southern Paiutes in the Fancher Wagon Train Massacre at Mountain Meadows in 1857 and the killing of three Powell Expedition members in 1869 required careful research, as the degree of participation of all parties is disputed even to this day. The participation of the Southern Paiute Indians in those events and their cultural ties to this place also required attention as they are hunter gatherers and traveled seasonally. Today there are five official bands of Southern Paiute in the area, but in the past there were many more traveling through. At the time of the Powell Expedition incident it was the Shivwit Band blamed. As for the Fancher Wagon Train massacre, it was claimed to be the Piedes Cedar Band of Southern Paiutes. Had I not researched the area and its people, I undoubtedly would have authored many egregious errors.

There is another benefit to research when writing fiction, the best one of all. It is that the things people do always suggest something people might do. In other words, one story begets another. The more one learns, the more the imagination is fired, and so the cycle of fiction and reality spins into another tale.

 

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