Researching – A Necessary Chore
Posted on October 9, 2012
Sitting down to write, we type away to get through a chapter. We’re just starting to hit the big “Mo”, or momentum, when we realize that we’ve got to look something up to get the details right. Taking a few seconds to Google whatever it is, we find there’s something else that needs to be researched. A few seconds turns into minutes turns into despair over what needs to be covered before you can write another word…
Ok, it might not be that dire, but we’ve all come up against the need for researching when writing. Some people like to do all of their research up front before they start writing their story. Some people start writing and find the subjects they need to research as they go along. I have to say that I’m right in the middle.
I pick my settings based on either what I know or where I’ve been. While they aren’t always exactly the same cities or towns on which they’re based, there has to be some knowledge involved to make them feel real. Not everyone has the means to go research in specific settings – wouldn’t we all like to travel to Italy “for research”? But whenever you visit somewhere, consider doing a little photo taking and picking up some basic material that tells you about the place. You never know when you might be able to use it. I just turned my future little planned vacay into a semi-research trip to a town that is becoming the home base for my newest WIP (work-in-progress). It’s only 45 minutes down the road from where we were originally planning to be, so it won’t change our plans. But it will put me right in the center of my setting.
If I know ahead of time major landmarks or information I’ll need to know for my WIP, then I’ll compile it before writing. I love Scrivener for just this purpose. For those who are considering purchasing Scrivener, here’s a cool feature: you can import your research directly into your virtual binder for your WIP. So if you find a website, a pdf, or if you’ve got written notes, you can add them into their own research folder that will be there whenever you need to reference them. Love this feature!
Some people rely on the internet to provide all of their research. In today’s digital age, you can find a lot of info there. I maintain that Wikipedia is a great jumping-off place, but should never be the primary source. With Google Maps, youtube, and other online sources, the trip to the library isn’t a necessity anymore. However, I highly suggest actually going to the library to do some research. One, you never know what books and sources they have including books not available online or other things like maps or tables you may find useful. As a personal preference, I just love the smell of books and the feeling of standing in the middle of the stacks looking at endless rows of them.
So in my time of writing, there have been a couple of things that really affected me. For one work, I researched experimenting done on humans during the Cold War. We condemned the Nazis for doing it, but the U.S. government did some hinky experimenting themselves. Trust me, that kind of stuff can create nightmares and make us all paranoid.
Recently, I’ve been researching an insane asylum in my real-town setting. One of the practices they used to do on the “degenerates” was eugenics, or the intentional sterilization of people. There’s a poem that exists titled “Mendel’s Law: A Plea for a Better Race of Men” written by the head doctor at the asylum. Click on the picture if you want to see it bigger to read.
Sometimes we wish that what we find in our research isn’t as sickening as the poem. And we just might find that the research changes our perceptions of others. But I think as writers, finding bits and pieces of history that can be added into our work not only lends credibility and adds richness to the content but also gives us much fodder to work from – just imagine all the places I could go with just knowing that the doctor who wrote this ran the insane asylum!
So before I actually get to the town where the asylum still stands, I’m collecting as much data as I can. That way, once I get there, I know exactly where to go and what to look for. A little planning ahead can make the journey much better once you reach the destination. I think the same could be said for doing research for our writing. The important thing to remember is not to get so bogged down in research that you never go on the journey in the first place!