Bright and early this morning, I attended a panel on researching for fiction, and listened to Garry Disher, Gabrielle Lord, Carrie Tiffany and Richard Flanagan.
Garry began the discussion, and described writing about the past, and about places he had never been. He suggests travellers diaries, photographs, and making sure to tie a description to the story by incorporating a character and their reactions to elements of your description. He then listed several things to be aware of when researching, including the reliability of your sources, making sure you double-check small details, and to always question whether this theme or incident is essential to your story. He also cautioned that too much research can blind you to your story, and that it is also easy for your story to sound like a textbook, so a good balance is important.
Gabrielle followed with her research techniques, which included extensive interviews and fact-checking with the police, and also police crime scene reports and videos. She mentioned that it is important for crime writers especially to stay abreast of new technology, and that while her police sources are sometimes gory, they are more often poignant for what they reveal about human lives and suffering.
Gabrielle and Garry both spoke about how important it is for a writer to acknowledge their own dark side, and exploring this can be a kind of research. In contrast to the well-structured, formulated research processes of Garry and Gabrielle, Carrie considered her research to be ‘noticing things’, and taking interest in everday aspects of life that other people might not notice. She recounted some of the random discoveries that influenced her book, and admitted that most of her research was in archived magazines and journals, for the language and lifestyle of the period in which her book is set. Carrie also read an extract from An Everyman’s Guide to Scientific Living.
Richard was the final speaker on the panel, and he admitted quite frankly that he almost never does any research, and wasn’t sure why he was there. He then proceeded to relate a story about the only book he ever did any research for, which was a ghostwritten tell-all for a con-man. He interviewed exhaustively with his subject, and soon realised that nothing this man told him remotely resembled the truth. All the research he did confirmed this, and in the end, he started making it up. The book then became the product of both research and lies, and Richard noted that this is often the case. He wondered why fiction has become something to be ashamed of, and compelled the audience to be proud of telling lies. After all, he said, there are no rules in fiction, and you should embrace whatever gets you there.