by Earl Staggs
Last Monday, the lovely and talented Morgan Mandel wrote here about writers doing research and, after reading what she said and the comments made by writers who commented on her post, I wondered if there’s something wrong with me.
You see, I don’t enjoy doing research and stay as far away from it as I possibly can.
There are some exceptions to my malady. When I decided to write about a man with psychic abilities, I read several books and spent time with a number of real-life psychics. When I decided on the settings for the short story and novel featuring my psychic guy, I chose two cities I knew well enough to describe without having to research them.
For a short story I wrote, the research was accidental. My wife and I visited the tiny town of Hico, Texas, with friends. While there, I became enchanted by a legend the town harbors and promotes. They claim and have convincing evidence that Billy the Kid was not killed in New Mexico at the age of twenty-one as historians recount. He escaped that storied fate, they say, spent many years in Mexico, then moved to Hico where he died at the age of ninety in 1950. I’m a bit of a history buff -- as long as it doesn’t require research -- and that legend stayed with me. Later on, I wrote a story featuring a modern day bounty hunter who travels to Hico in search of a fugitive, also named Billy. In my story, the local legend of Billy the Kid and my bounty hunter’s quest become entangled and lead to an ending that pleased me a great deal.
Since I had to use the real setting of Hico, however, I had to be true to the details of the town. That only involved picking up free maps and pamphlets at the town’s Billy the Kid Museum and buying a small book written by a local historian.
I’ve written a number of short stories over the years and, of course, a story must take place somewhere. I may have a particular town or city in mind when I write, but getting the details correct would require research. To avoid that chore, I use whatever actual details of the actual town fit the story, invent the rest, and give the town a fictional name.
Yes, there is something wrong with me. After examining the symptoms, I’ve come up with an erstwhile diagnosis, and it’s simply that I don’t enjoy writing nonfiction. Nonfiction requires getting the facts and details right, and that takes time and uses up a lot of brain cells. I admire and respect those people who do the necessary research to blend nonfiction details and facts into their fictional stories. I applaud their ability to do that, but I prefer to use what little time and brain cells I have to write fiction in which the only other component I need add is my imagination.
Is there a cure for my problem? Probably not at this point in my life. My prognosis is that I’m destined to go on writing fiction and inventing details to fit the story.
After all, the reason I write fiction and not nonfiction is that, in fiction, I get to make up stuff.
Does anyone else share my problem? Perhaps we could organize a support group.