I recently heard something remarkable about Sarah J Maas (though I haven’t been able to ascertain whether or not it’s true): that she hired a personal trainer as part of her research in writing A Court of Silver Flames. The theory goes that since Cassian is in excellent shape and knows his body very well (both how to use it, and what to put into it), and since he spends some time in the story giving this knowledge to Nesta, Sarah had to know what kinds of things a top-tier athlete would tell someone he was training, to help them grow. Hence, hiring a personal trainer.
If this is true, I found it admirable.
And as I processed it, I felt a strong desire to level-up my own writing process. I’m writing a new story now, and I felt a strong desire to learn more about the kinds of things I think my characters do and are good at, so I could accurately tell their stories.
I think part of the story takes place on a pre-modern ship, so I went on a tour of the Mayflower and asked the tour guide questions to help me get a sense of what life would be like on a ship like that. I also think one of my characters becomes a pretty strong general, so I’ve been learning pre-modern military strategy.
These things might help me tell the story better. I do believe they’ve made my own understanding of the story deeper, and enhanced my joy in the writing. So, for both of those I say: Thank you, Sarah, for inspiring a fellow writer.
P.S. Why does research matter in a story? Writers give different answers. I’ve heard some say that including good details in the story deepens the reader’s sense of immersion, and others say they don’t want angry letters from readers about what they got wrong. I’m sure other writers have other reasons I haven’t heard.
Here’s my answer:
I see writing as a discovery process, not an act of creation (if you’re curious, I talk more about my writing process here). So for me, research is about not letting the story down. My characters are good at XYZ thing, but if I don’t have some working knowledge of XYZ, I might mistell part of the story when they do XYZ. For example, if one of my characters is a military genius (a la Matrim Cauthon from The Wheel of Time) but I can’t tell at sight a Mauser rifle from a javelin, I’m less able to do justice when I tell their battles. If one of my characters is a king, but I don’t understand the intrigues of his court and I assume the whole kingdom jumps when he says “jump”, I might miss huge parts of his story, conflict, and potentially even character arc.
I do research so I can tell the stories I want to tell deeper and more accurately. And I thank Sarah J Maas (as well as Robert Jordan, who from all accounts was a legend at this sort of thing) for inspiring me to do that.