A few years ago, I was contracted to do some manuscript reviews by one Zimbabwe’s oldest publishing establishments.
One manuscript that interested me was centred on a legal drama. What I observed, however, was that the author had a judge in the story who presided over a case in a magistrates court.
Already that was a fault line, because any reader with a little understanding of the Zimbabwe’s legal system would know that you don’t find judges at the magistrates’ court.
Judges sit at the higher courts – High Court, Supreme Court, Constitutional Court, and Administrative Court etc.
So, what that showed me was that the author had not done sufficient research on their subject, if at all any research was done.
Research demands that you read extensively about the subject or themes you want to deal with in your book. Or, you can even seek to experience what you want to write about.
For instance, the case above, you can go to court and follow a trial. That way, you can even pick up the language used by lawyers and loan it to your characters.
I recalled that just recently, I edited a book by a member of this Writers Clinic, and there is an incident in which a rich young man who wanted to marry a divorcee decided to pay off the woman’s ex-husband the divorce token (gupuro).
Automatically, in my mind, a red flag went up.
1. It is the ex-husband who was supposed to give the woman a divorce token
2. The figure involved, deliberately meant to mock the ex-husband, was too high. It was not a “token”.
So, the author and I had to work through that and straighten out the issue so that it is as factual and authentic as possible.
I appreciate that sometimes as a creative, you do have the poetic licence to play around with ideas and their expression, but facts are sacrosanct, and must therefore be treated as such.
If you are going to write a story centred on a rainmaking ceremony to end a long spell of drought, for instance, you cannot just sit at your word processor and start punching away.
Dig up information about rainmaking ceremonies. Nowadays information is widely available on the internet. Go to the National Archives if you have to. Talk to experts that are knowledgeable about the subject.
If you really look at it, if you are writing a novel, short story or play, you may not even need to dig very deep.
However, if you are going to write in other genres such as motivational, Christian literature, Finance etc., you have no choice but to be thorough in your research because these disciplines are about facts and data rather than your imagination.
In yet another book by one of us here that I edited, the story was about a woman who was about to lose her property to her in-laws after her husband, a businessman, had been murdered through poisoning.
Such a story necessarily need to include issues of the administration of deceased estates, yet another legal area demanding in depth research. What does the law say about such issues? How do you incorporate that into your story?
All these are important issues that you should think about as you write. Readers respect well-researched work.
Phillip Kundeni Chidavaenzi
Author | Editor | Literary Consultant
Co-Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Royalty Books (Pvt.) Ltd
Founder & Administrator Writers Clinic
Writers Clinic is a writer training and author empowerment arm of leading book publishers, Royalty Books.