Research, faking it and writing what you know

Research has always been a tricky thing for me. I mean I could sit and study other people’s books and papers or even try and absorb another country or culture by going and living in it for a while, but I’m sure I’d still have the same nagging feeling inside: that’s I’m faking it a step too far.

Obviously if you only ever write about what you know, your palette is likely going to be rather limited (unless you’re one of those people that somehow seems capable of living a life big enough for at least three people). But I really hate the idea of writing so far out of your own experience that you’re actually running the risk of seriously offending, or at least misrepresenting, a certain period of time or set of people.

I accept the theory that once you write something you are inherently fictionalising it anyway, even when you don’t mean to, but I don’t think that’s enough to excuse people from ensuring accuracy when they are talking about things that are easily relatable to the real world.

For example, if writing about unethical doctors who work in Britain, you surely need some grounding of the way the healthcare system here works or the reader won’t be able to identify with the character. However, if the healthcare system, and your story, was set in an unnamed location your facts and figures could conceivably be snatched from the air without it annoying or distracting your audience too much.

The reason this has been sticking in my head is that I’m trying to write something that needs a lot of research from my end at the moment, but I keep catching myself trying to find different ways to get around making definitive statements. But if I want any kind of realism there are some things I guess I’m just going to have to try learn and make my own, even if it means faking it.