The Curious Incident of Lazy Writers Not Doing Research

I finished my 4,000 word essay! Hurray!

… I didn’t read a new book this week. Or write a book review. Oops. As such, I’m going to review a book I read some time ago today, and for the next couple of weeks, I’ll try to read two books a week to make up for this week and last week’s slips.

Now, the book I want to talk about is one very close to my liver, in that I have a lot of bile related to it: “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” by Mark Haddon.

02a. Curious Incident Cover

Image © publisher / cover artist.

The story of a fifteen-year-old boy whom the book jacket describes as having Asperger’s and the author disingenuously claims to just have “behavioural problems”, “The Curious Incident” documents the protagonist Christopher’s attempts to discover who is responsible for killing his neighbour’s dog.

Three years ago, I wrote an article for Disability Now about autistics in fiction where I mentioned that I hate this book, and time has not softened me to it.

The writing is technically fine, and Haddon manages to keep within the very tight limits of Christopher’s communication patterns without faltering throughout, which is quite an accomplishment. No, the problems with this book come from the concept.

Haddon has since claimed in a very poorly typed blog post (which for some reason utterly eschews capital letters) that he did no research for the book and it’s not supposed to be about autism or Asperger’s. He’s also claimed that imagination trumps research.

And Mark? Buddy? That’s complete and utter rubbish.

02b. Rubbish

Image © Pexels

If you’re not writing about an autistic character, you don’t dedicate an entire chapter of the book to explaining how, in childhood, he underwent a test designed specifically to examine whether autistic people have theory of mind. If you include a Sally-Anne test in your story, you’re coding your character autistic.

And what’s more, the idea that imagination trumps research is, quite frankly, insulting to me as both a writer and an autistic. While it’s true that, sometimes, you need to bend the rules of reality to make a story work, the idea that imagination is always better than finding out the truth is daft.

So what, I can make up whatever nonsense I like about anything and it’s automatically more valid? I could write a historical novel where Genghis Khan’s troupes rode giant steam-powered mechanical spiders and claim it’s correct because imagination is better than research?

Unless you’re writing a story that doesn’t take place in reality, you need to look into what you’re writing about, even more so if you’re trying to write from the perspective of somebody who is drastically different from you. In short, not doing your research doesn’t make you a better or more creative writer: it means you’re a lazy hack.

Oh, and Mark? You think that the idea of somebody calmly explaining the discovery of a dead dog is “funny”? No. No it’s not.

Looks like it’s not autistics who lack empathy. It’s you.

~ Penny

Related Post: The Thursday Review: “Play Dead” by Richard Montanari

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Images © Penny Gotch (, Liam Whear, Susan Wright and Molly Penford.

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