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The first time I considered the relationship between fiction and research was during a writing workshop—my first—while I watched the professor eviscerate some poor kid’s story about World War II. And yeah, the story was bad. I remember the protagonist being told to “take cover” and then performing several combat rolls to do so.
“You’re college students,” the professor said. “Write about college students.”
Later, better professors would clarify for me that research, with a touch of imagination, can be a perfectly valid substitute for experience. But that’s always where the conversation stopped. If we ever uttered the word “research” in a workshop, we did so in a weaponized way to critique a piece of writing: “This desperately needs more research,” we’d all agree, and then nothing more would be said. We’d all just pretend that everyone in the room already knew how to integrate research into fiction and that the failures of the story were merely a lack of effort rather than skill. Secretly, though, I felt lost.
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