Why research doesn't suck

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Title: Why research doesn't suck
Date(s): December 2000
Medium: online
Fandom: many
External Links: online here; WebCite
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Other Essays by ljc

Why research doesn't suck is an essay by LJC.


Once upon a time, I spent over an hour scanning through the restaurant reviews of the Los Angeles Times, searching for just the right night spots for Cordelia Chase to mention while discussing suitable venues for a perfect first date. It occurred to me, as I scanned maps of locations and weighed the quality of the food versus the trendiness versus the starpower, it suddenly occurred to me that the show had never done this much research. Why should I?

Simple answer: because it will make the story better.

Sure, I could just make up locales and street names. Certainly for any reader outside Los Angeles, it may not matter if I made up locations, streets, and the like. However, by actually taking the time to research the city of Los Angeles, I can seed the story with those tiny details that give it a sense of realism. Research of this kind can adds depth and detail to your fiction, and help convince the reader that the world you are describing is as real as the one they inhabit, at least for the duration of the story.
Unlike the original fiction writer, you must make certain that the story you are telling fits seamlessly into someone else's universe. That requires a lot of fact-checking. But more than merely keeping an eye on canon, show-related research also extends to characterisations. A writer needs to look at the sum of the characters she is using, and reproduce that character as closely as possible not just in terms of how the look or dress, but sound, think, and feel.
When it comes to research, the fan writer should be no different from the professional writer. In order to write the best story we are capable of writing, we have to put in the hard work. However, research does not have to be boring. It can actually be a great deal of fun, especially if you are interested in your subject, which, I'm assuming, you are since you chose to write fiction about it. And while it did take me an hour to find just the right restaurants for Cordelia to mention to Doyle, I don't feel that was an hour wasted. And I would hope my Los Angeles audience appreciates the time I took. And even if they don't, I feel better knowing I've added a little touch to bind the universe of my story to the real world of my readers.