Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ramblings of Research

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines “research” as: 1) a careful study that is done to find and report new knowledge about something, or 2) the activity of getting information about a subject.  What a vague explanation for such a complex act.  With writing, research is huge.  Even if you are writing about a person, place, or thing that doesn’t exist, you still must research. 

This is how I researched my first book, “Flight”. I started in 2007.  I see you doing the math: Wait, you finished this book in 2010. That’s a lot of research.  Well, let me interrupt that thought.  I was working full-time with a toddler running around and a husband in grad school, and towards the end I was pregnant and then tending to a newborn.  This gave me very little time to do my research and write—that is, until I fully committed. 

I just started last week the research for my WIP, which is a companion book to my first book.  My first book is about two sisters who deal with a family secret (I know this really tells you nothing of what the book is about; that is the point).  This latest book, my WIP, focuses on a teenage boy dealing with high school, dating, and parents who like to flaunt their wealth and socially drink too much. There is a love interest (the main character from my first book) and, oh, of course he is told he must embrace, let’s just say, “the family business”. Needless to say, he is torn.  Have I told too much, or too little? I am not sure.  So how did I come up with this idea? From researching my last book. See, research is key.  I write fantasy and I researched mythical creatures (among many things, places and people). I found many that fascinated me, especially since I couldn’t picture them as everyone else did.  I had my own vision, my own story to tell of these beings.  While I wrote “Flight”, I started to think of another character who would have to deal with his own family secret—a secret that would bring these two characters closer together, but could also be the thing that tears them apart.  You might ask why I didn’t focus on that in the first book.  Well, it’s 55,000 words long, and this story deserved its own telling.  That is when I decided that one day I would write about this other character.  You also may ask why I am not starting on book two in my series.  Well, I have outlines for the other two books, and boy are the stories good (if I do say so myself).  But from doing agent research, I have read many articles saying that I should hold off on book two, in case book one doesn’t get picked up (which will not happen).  I wasn’t ready to put these characters on a shelf, so focusing on this book will allow me to still be very close to “Flight”. 

I went to the library and searched every word in the card catalog that had something to do with my WIP.  Then I got to explore the library.  How much fun— thumbing through books, skimming indexes and soaking in the amazing literature that surrounded me.  I absolutely love the library and am always inspired while I am there.  I get every single book that interests me and lay them out on the table. I skim through them all, taking notes if the book has little info or can’t be checked out.  Anything worth really reading, I take home. I walked out with one book to read with my 7-year-old (The Grimm Sisters), nine books to research and one VHS (yes, VHS) tape. (Talk of how my local library needs help is another post entirely.)

When I’m researching, I come home and write the title and author of each book in my notebook and take as many notes as possible.  I then do more research online.  I try to do so much research that I eat, sleep and breathe my WIP.  I can close my eyes and picture my characters, their house, school, friends, roads, mannerisms, etc.  I make a rough outline of the story, which by the time I am done gets expanded tremendously.  I would love if my research included visiting locations that I have researched or that inspired me, but financially this is not possible--not unless I wanted to set my WIP in Disney World or on the beach, since these are the locations of our family vacations.  People will know when you’re not doing enough research, because the description of your setting will not be authentic.  You must be able to put yourself in each place and situation your character is in for your readers to be able to picture it themselves.

The bulk of my research is done before I start writing, but I continue as I go, making sure I am consistent with what I am writing.  I also try to include actual events in my stories, and those details must be spot-on.  I do not change history; I simply add some things to it, leaving readers with the thought that this could have happened.

Even after the WIP is over, research continues with agents, articles, conferences, books in the same genre, etc.  It is true that to be a good writer, you must be a good reader!
I have lots of research to do, and I can’t wait! Oh, and I am still actively sending out queries; I am very, very, very busy.  I will keep everyone posted on my progress in my research, WIP and the agent search.

Check out my friend Anita's post, which will help myself (and all writers) hook agents, editors and readers with just three sentences. I will definitely be incorporating this into my WIP.  Reading blogs is part of the research process. Read, read and read—I can’t say it enough!


  1. Look at you, miss nice. Thanks so much for giving me props! I LOVE this post!! I had no idea that there was anyone who liked to research as much as me!

    The library--sighhh--I'm such a total geek because I could spend an entire day just pulling down books and thumbing through them.

    And I also like to saturate myself in the subject of what I'm writing. In fact, back when I was writing my vampire fantasy, all hubbie and I watched for our Friday night movie dates were vampire flicks, and the occasional phantom of the opera fix. I'm a fanatic about it.

    Poor hubbie. He's so patient and understanding. LOL. Well, I enjoyed learning so much about you today! And it's so cool that we have even more in common than I realized!

  2. Gah! The word verication made me type the word "tramp." Harumph. #rude

  3. Research can be fun if you allow it to be just that, fun. I've written my stories and just ran with it, not worried about what's real and what's not. I knew that later I'd go back and revise it and make it exactly what it should be... accurate and sparkly.

    My newest novel has to do with insitutions for the mentally insane. I really need to do some proper research to make sure I'm not degrading the work they do... especially if the killer just so happens to be the therapist inside the walls... don't want to have an upset institution on my hands!

    Great blog!!! I can't wait to come back! I hope you'll stop by my neck of the woods to say hello!

  4. Anita sorry about the verification word, but hey that's pretty funny.
    And to Anita and Jen I think research for me is also part of my procrastination routine! We all have our own process to get our books perfect for us. Sometimes we change due to trial and error. And just like Jen, research is different with different books!
    But it is fun and exciting! Gosh I am nerd!
    Jen, you have a great blog! Thanks for stopping by and hope you can spread the word about my blog!

  5. I love how you "absolutely love the library" now... my how times have changed! ;)