Why Everyone Should Research
And how to stop it being boring
Today I’m going to help you find the enthusiasm to conquer that pesky little blighter of boredom- research.
‘Research?’ I hear you cry, ‘I don’t need any of that, I’m writing fiction!’
The truth of the matter is you do need to do research no matter what genre you’re writing for. How else are you going to find out when a gun backfires, what the body can endure, or whether your sweet fighting move would actually work?
When you see the word ‘research’ if part of your brain tries to commit suicide to save you from the drudgery, you’re doing it wrong.
Research can be a lot of fun, BUT you first have to pick a subject that will interest you, but then, if you’re not interested in your story no-one else will be either.
When I say ‘research’ I don’t mean the dull and dry, “King Pinklebrook was born in 1872 and died of syphilis in 1905.”
I’m talking about the kind of obscure research that tells you King Pinklebrook won the battle of Madeup with nothing but a dishcloth and a feather duster.
The facts that tell you about the first gun, made by the Chinese, which was a length of bamboo, gunpowder and, more than likely, a death wish.
When researching it helps to find the obscure. These little facts can add a flavour to your work. Perhaps you’d not thought about making a gun out of whatever is laying about, or maybe you had and you didn’t know how to go about it.
I’m not saying include the ingredients list, but being aware of how to make a thing, or where that thing comes from, can help you make your story seem more real.
The most important thing is that when you find that fascinating snippet, make a note of it, including the links to where you found that information.
If it doesn’t end up fitting it into your current story you can set it aside for another day.
Whatever you’re writing about make sure it’s something that sparks your imagination because you might be about to become an expert (at least for the length of time it takes you to write your book.)
Where to go to research
If hitting the books isn’t your forte, and Google’s let you down, here are some other methods you might try.
There are plenty of writers groups that contain many and varied people who have had life experiences that they will be willing to share.
Just make sure you go to places where it’s safe to ask strange questions. (If you join mumsnet and ask if anyone knows how the police detect poison, you’re not likely to be received kindly.)
Example: Prince Awesome is being chased by Badmen from the land of Nowhere.
You can’t learn from a book what it feels like to be chased, or how the body feels when it’s been running for miles.
If you don’t want to run, ask someone who does- don’t go getting yourself or others into dangerous situations to see what it’s like being chased either!
Others have already been in those situations.
Just remember to be respectful.
When asking a question that may be sensitive, show that you know that it is the case. Be as honest and understanding as you can and show gratitude to those who do reply.
Blogs and forums
If you don’t want to ask, find blogs and read/ watch the news about people who have experienced those things.
A lot of people write about those experiences, just don’t copy their words. Read a few articles from different people, figure out what the commonalities are, try to imagine how you would feel in their place, and write that down in your own words.
Is there a museum near you? Look at the swords, join in on medieval re-enactments, go out and touch feel, smell and taste things.
That doesn’t mean you should go out and start groping and licking people, but be tactile. How heavy is that sword, how itchy is the wool? Just make sure it’s actually OK to start picking things up first.
Find people and places that talk about or exhibit things that are relevant to your story. The more you can immerse yourself in your world the better.
Your life is research too!
Even day-to-day life can be classed as research.
Talk to people, listen to them and remember, or make notes. What mannerisms do they have, how did they talk, smile, fidget? What can you use? Don’t copy someone completely, chances are it will come back to bite you.
However, knowing how someone acts will help you determine their reaction. It’s all very well and good having a happy character who is jolly and never mean or rude, but there comes a point where things don’t go their way, how would they react?
Look at your surroundings, look at buildings, what does that garage smell like? Note anything that will help with your world building. (As long as it doesn’t get you into trouble.)
I’m writing about tiny creatures that live in the garden, I may look mad when I run my fingers through the grass, or smell the lawn, or peer through the grass blades waiting for insects to walk by, but at least I have points of reference for my world building to make my land seem more real.
Too much research?
By now I can practically hear you all going, ‘Oh no, I have to become an expert in everything from Agriculture to the art of Zen. Where am I going to start?’
Just remember if you’re researching and not writing you’re doing it wrong.
Believe it or not there is such a thing as ‘over researching’ and that occurs when it stops you from writing your story.
If you don’t know where to start, or even where to stop, simply write your story and then seek out what it is that you need to know. Find out where the gaps are, when is it obvious that you’re winging it? What needs more spice?
When you find yourself hitting those spots that’s the time to start fact hunting.
In the meantime: Go on, write, live, smell the roses, hang around stables to find out how horses behave. READ! Read and read some more and, when all else fails, simply ask.
But above all be inspired.
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