Monday, March 30, 2015

Researching A Novel

I don't know about you, but I love reading as much as I love writing. I love when a new project has me learning history or looking at photos of unfamiliar terrain. It's the best. Here are some tips I've discovered when researching for a large format project like a novel or full-length play:

1. Start Simple

In Starbuck McLaw, when our titular hero wants to know more about his past, he goes to the children's section to see what the basic building blocks were in Ancient Egypt. I didn't pull this idea out of nowhere: I start in the kids section, too. I like to start with a broad-strokes approach to research, especially when the topic is something about which I know very little. If I can't get to a library, I will check Amazon for kids books, or even skim wikipedia articles and take notes on topics I'd like to learn more about. This will help me lay groundwork for more in-depth research later. It also helps me understand where my knowledge is at the starting point, and know where to build up my weaker areas.

2. Visual Learning

Photography books can be a writer's best friend. If you're looking for inspiration, or need to know how Times Square looked in 1908, you're bound to get a lot of information very quickly from photographs rather than anywhere else. Sometimes when my inspiration tank feels particularly low I'll spend a day at an art museum and focus especially on areas I may not be initially drawn towards. This can either jostle something I didn't expect, or it can solidify my instinct to go in a different direction.


Don't be afraid to put the books down and write one of your own. I can get very wrapped up reading about a whole lot of things that are only tangentially related to my project. Or, I might be reading about something unrelated all together. The reason you or I are doing this research is to enhance our own writing--and the writing won't get better if we stop doing it. So take a break after you've learned something that piques your interest. Write it down somewhere--try writing how your main character would react to that information or when they first learned it. Never forget to go back to your own writing.

4. Ask the tough questions!

So okay sometimes you'll come across dubious sources. Sometimes you need to do a little digging into where ideas come from or who did/funded the research you're reading. Sometimes you have to ask questions that haven't been answered yet--and sometimes that will lead to the best writing you've done in a while. If the questions haven't been answered you can take your time exploring a whole lot of possibilities, and no one gets to say you're wrong!

5. enjoy ya life.

If researching isn't your jam, then okay. No problem. But you SHOULD know the facts about what you're writing about. So then stick to the bare minimum, to make sure you actually know what you're talking about. But of course there's always a place for alternate history, broken laws of physics, and worlds built entirely of cotton candy and lemon drops, those worlds need to have consistent rules or reasons for no rules at all. So yeah. Enjoy ya life.


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