The Novelist, the Imagination, and Research


13 August 2009

A happy accident brought me to a wonderful and timely article in Glimmer Train about the novelist’s research process, and the relationship between research and imagination.  Here’s how it happened…

I recently listened to Maureen Corrigan’s review on NPR of George Scialabba’s book What Are Intellectuals Good For?  I’d made a note in (the sieve that is) my mind to investigate.

Then, in the Glimmer Train newsletter, I saw that there was an article written by George Rabasa.  I thought, Oh, I’ve been meaning to read his book, I should check out his article.  So I saved the email for about two weeks in my inbox.

Then, of course, I came to discover my mistake.  But was glad to discover Rabasa, and his wisdom on researching for fiction.   I especially liked his Ten Exhortations for the Literary Researcher:

  1. Go where no writer has gone before.
  2. Don’t feel you have to use everything you’ve learned.
  3. You don’t even have to use anything you’ve learned.
  4. Keep in mind that someone out there reading your book knows more about your subject than you do.
  5. Don’t worry too much about that person.
  6. Don’t confuse facts with details. Facts are stones. Details are wings. The astute researcher sniffs out the telling detail like a pig rooting after truffles.
  7. Hang on to notes, clippings, book titles, photos, souvenirs, post cards, road maps, hotel receipts, (good for taxes, if you ever make any money).
  8. Whenever you don’t know something when you’re writing, make it up. You’ll be surprised how true it is when you check later.
  9. Don’t forget to check later.
  10. Research does not make the story. The story makes the story.

Click here for the full Rabasa article.

(Click here for the Scialabba piece on NPR.)

It’s all good.


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