Ask the Divas

Should I research when writing a novel?

Writers have an unspoken agreement with readers to suspend disbelief when they begin a story. Readers willingly do this because they’re in it for the enjoyment of getting lost in a good book. But as a general rule, people will suspend disbelief only so far. Push the envelope too much and you’ll end up with reviews about your lackluster world building, protagonists acting out of character, and a story that simply didn’t make sense. Because while people want to get lost in a make-believe world, that world still needs to make sense within the boundaries you, as the writer, have set.

By Justin6898 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Justin6898 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

So what does this have to do with research? It basically comes down to knowing your crap vs. knowing you’re crap. If you haven’t done enough research into the science behind a medical thriller, you won’t be able to convince people of the credibility of your characters and of you as an author. Stories that feature Vikings wearing helmets with horns or Roman Gladiators using words like groovy and whaddup sends up a red flag that the author is lazy. Let’s face it, if you aren’t willing to do a simple search of the Internet for “what did Vikings wear,” e-mail a university professor who specializes in ancient civilizations for help with common phrases used in Ancient Rome, or ask a doctor or medical intern for help with medical terminology and phrasing, your readers will notice. I know when I come across issues like these, it pulls me from the story and I begin looking for inconsistencies in the setting and details instead of reading the novel. The book becomes a comedy of errors.

Don’t be afraid to ask an expert, avid hobbyist, or general know-it-all for input on ways to make your book sound authentic.


  1. I know. It becomes a game to see what other goofs you can spot. It’s especially funny when the author claims you can drive from point A to B in 15 minutes without accounting for Los Angeles traffic, or thinks there is a beach right outside of Berkeley California where people surf and burn bonfires and the ENTIRE freshman class is invited to the party.

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