How Much Research Is Needed to Write Fiction?

A slightly beefier spaceship than the Airstream.
Photo by Pixabay on

I’m not going to say that I never write fiction. Airstream is probably my third or fourth novel. I’m not sure about the count since one is a chapter book. But I’m much more comfortable with nonfiction. I know how much research I need to do and how long it will take me to draft.

I’m only now discovering how much research is required to write fiction. Maybe it is because I am writing science fiction but it is comparable to researching nonfiction. That said, I have to admit that I didn’t do much of the research before I started writing. Sure, there were a few things I needed to look into.

Before I could decide how far in the future the story needed to be set, I had to know how long it took to irradicate smallpox and for how many years most of our tech would be more or less recognizable. I also had to compare deep space travel to near space, compare fuel sources, and learn something about human hibernation.

All I can say is thank goodness both my husband and son are into space. My son is also a mechanical engineering student. He’s the one I hit up with many of my “what ifs.”

Why didn’t I do more research? Because I don’t like science fiction that is more about the science than it is about the story. Do not give me a lecture on quantum mechanics or the fourth dimension that is framed by a plot. Don’t do it. I’m warning you!

To me, the characters and story are central. Think about it. Genetic engineering was central to McCaffrey’s Pern books but you didn’t get into that until you had fallen in love with the harpers, the dragon riders, and the fire lizards. That’s how I want readers to feel about my story.

Yes, I did research before I started writing. Then I made an outline. Now, as I write, I am doing research. I’ve researched EVA (extra vehicular activity) suits for space walks. I’ve looked into suit propulsion. I know how cable and satellite work. The lunch table has seen more than one conversation about shelf stable foods and space as well as 3-D printing.

Although I needed an understanding of the topic before I started writing, I’m much more comfortable researching as I write vs doing all of the research up front. So how much research will I have to do? I won’t know until I get there, but I sure am enjoying the journey.