It’s expected that non-fiction will be the result of extensive real-world research.
But what about fiction?
While not required, conducting research will greatly enhance any novel. You may not expect research for a F&SF(Fantasy & Sci-Fi) novel, but there are many which have done this very thing.
Why? Because while a writer’s world will be fantastical and unrealistic, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t logical and grounded.
A great writer will present a world with a reasonable set of limits. Meaning, if a wizard can perform magic, there should likewise be a cost. If a society declares war, there should be a century leading up to such a conflict.
Without logical structure, a world with no limits becomes boring. A war with no deeply rooted prejudice and rich history will have no meaning, and no emotional impact.
Often, a writer will pull from their own experiences to make a great story. F&SF writers create amazing worlds that obviously can never be experienced first-hand. However, that doesn’t mean one cannot pull juicy bits from the real world. There is a wealth of human history that can be incorporated into the author’s world-building and plot structure. This will paint a picture in which the reader can relate and be a part of. Once a reader is turned believer, great sellers are born.
So wait a minute, if this is so true, what famous novels have done real-world research? Well, I’m so glad you asked! Let’s take a look at a few (slightly famous) F&SF stories:
1. Game of Thrones
I wouldn’t be surprised if many already knew this, but Game of Thrones has many historical parallels largely based on Medieval European history. In particular, the War of Roses.
Source(one of many, but this felt most relevant): http://mentalfloss.com/article/56558/7-historical-parallels-game-thrones
2. Star Wars
Yes, Star Wars. A wealth of real world religions, cultures and history helped to inspire many of the societies we fell in love with under the moons of Tatooine.
3. Harry Potter
While the relation to England based culture is obvious, J.K. Rowling also stated in an interview a parallel is drawn from Nazism.
or if you rather trust the wiki interview account: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Politics_of_Harry_Potter
So where should you start? It depends on the focus of your novel. To get started, feel free to use the below cheat-sheet.
1. Alien Mind Control or Horror Ghost Possession
What to research? Schizophrenia. Multiple-Personality Disorder. Accounts of real exorcisms (you don’t have to believe it, but they’re out there.)
Based on these psychological disorders and real world accounts, you can create a character that would realistically show two personalities in one body. You can bring out the symptoms that will have the reader wide-eyed in belief.
2. War Dynamics
What to research? Pick up a history book.
This kind of pulls from some of the above novel examples, but it bears repeating. Human history has an unfortunate wealth of information in war. Your war needs to have history, it needs to have landscape and grand scope. What will be the outcome? What brought two societies clashing against one another?
Don’t reinvent the wheel, pick up a history book.
3. Artificial Intelligence
What to research? Today’s technology
This is actively trying to be developed in the real world. What are the current issues and pitfalls? Try to imagine where technology can go to resolve the current issues. Make a world where AI is realistically born and real problems are overcome with logical solutions.
4. Make-believe Religions
What to research? Real world religion and Cults
There are thousands, if not millions, of religions in the world and wrapped up in history. Each has a rich story and devoted following. What made those people followers? What happened when the group became large? What happened when conflicting religions clashed?
5. Other Plant Colonization
What to research? Real world colonization experience and current issues.
We’ve already sent men to the moon. What was the first real issue? Aside from the cost and technology, some couldn’t even wrap their mind around it and called it a hoax. Would this happen in your world? What current issues do we have to colonize mars? What will happen when people leave earth and never come back?
There are repercussions to colonization. Take a step back and look at the English colonizing America. What did they do when they encountered the indigenous population? It might as well have been a new planet.
This all ties in to my last post, we need to be patient and not rush into a novel. We need to ponder our ideas, pull resources from community and history. Give your novel the attention and polish it deserves!