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Research to support your writing

January 25, 2011
By Justyn Rowe
One of the greatest gifts I have been given has been an ear bashing about the importance of research. As a young writer I was certain I had the talent required to pull any story, fact or fiction, from the recesses of my own mind and in a great disgorging of last minute genius, turn out a memorable article or story that would win me accolades. Well, I did say I was young. The reality of course is that anyone ‘well read’ can spot a shallow flash-in-the-pan like that a mile away. With that warning in mind, here are a few research tips that will invigorate you and your work with genuine knowledge and confidence before you even open a new page.
Research informs your choice of vocabulary, sparks serendipitous insights and adds depth that will widen your appeal to readers.
Here are my five top tips to deepening your knowledge.
  1. Firstly, when visiting your local library, yes we still have them, see what else is in the physical vicinity of the topic you are after can uncover exciting new directions.
  2. Secondly, library will also  have periodicals, journals, manuals, newspapers and audio recordings on an astonishing array of related topics.
  3. Then look for historical books or documentaries to get the feel of the subject and develop the mood or mind-set required to make your writing flow naturally around the topic.
  4. Take a wander to the nearest bookstore and browse through other writing on your topic – you may be equally surprised by what has already been said and by the originality of your own thoughts.
  5. Finally, the internet. Last because it can be used to tie the rest of your research together. What I mean is that ‘the web’ is such a vast source of information that you may easily become lost or side tracked in following a thread of links that only serve to bog you down. Try using it after you have already found some good questions to ask and your searching will take you much further and be less of a time waster as your deadline approaches. You can repeat the first four points on-line in fact. In particular, search for a glossary of terms in your subject area. In it will be an amazing collection of relevant words you can seed into your piece.
From this point you can begin to write with some semblance of understanding that will shine through your ideas and bring the world of your subject to the reader in a new and invigorating way. That is what writers do.
Whatever the source you choose, be sure to keep asking questions that try to capture the essence of your subject. In this way you will grow your knowledge and vicarious experience in ways that will continue to inform and inspire you throughout your journey as a writer.

Justyn writes fiction at Writers Vein and has begun his foray into editing with the new series of CYOA Follow Justyns journey though Twitter

  1. January 25, 2011 8:07 am

    Thanks so much for being our guest writer today Juz! Some great thoughts here.

  2. January 25, 2011 8:13 am

    It’s easy when researching to get excited about a subject, and then want to lecture the readers, putting too much research into the novel. John Derbyshire “cleaves to the ‘iceberg’ theory of authorship: i.e. that the author should only tell a tenth of what he knows.” Jeffrey Deaver says he uses only about a quarter of his research. David Baldacci discards ninety percent of his research. “You agonize over leaving stuff out, because you feel like you’ve earned that knowledge,” Baldacci says. “But no matter how cool the information may seem to be, if you break the storyline, you lose the reader.” I used to go the libraries, but most everything is available online these days, at least, information to the depth of suitable for fiction. We need to be accountable for our time, and these days trips to the library don’t seem like time well spent, when Google will bring up anything. It’s a sorry state, when libraries don’t seem as vital as they once were.

  3. January 25, 2011 10:29 am

    This seems to be coming up a lot lately. For me anyway.

    I’ve found a lot of people don’t know how to research or don’t know where to get there information from. While I agree with Jim T. about everything being available online, it can be overwhelming to find what you are looking for unless you already have a good idea of what you need. Libraries on the other hand have things broken down into a little more of a user friendly order.

    For example, I was trying to figure out what the major differences would be between the ISS and a space station built for long term habitation. It took me 3 days and countless hours searching the net for that information. Eventually, I had to come up with specific questions before I could get the answers I wanted (construction materials needed is too broad, I had to ask “what radiation shielding would allow for long term habitation in space?”). Had I gone to the library fist I may have had better luck.

    I could have just glassed over that part and built my fictional space station out of whatever I wanted, but there would have been a lot of people who would have challenged me on it. Granted, the type and thickness of radiation shielding may not end up in the final product but at least I know it and built my space station accordingly.

    Lots of things to keep in mind when you write fiction. It’s not all about make-believe, even in fantasy (seriously why is everyone eating meat and fresh buns? There are such things as vegetables in ancient times and wasn’t bread normally dried?).

    PS: In case you’re wondering, hydrogen-rich plastics or aluminum/titanium plating and concrete are the best we can do with current technology to shield ourselves from spacial radiation. The main drawbacks are the expense to ship into space. Electromagnetic/ plasma fields, once developed, will be smaller and less expensive to ship but will have other draw backs (including possible health risks).

  4. January 29, 2011 8:22 pm

    Appreciate #5. When I was a student of an online writing program, my professors constantly encouraged me to solely use the internet for research. This was partially because, as long-distance students, it could safely be assumed that we all had access to the internet, whereas access to a local library was less certain. The process of using only the internet to gather enough material for even a small project was daunting, and the results often seemed unorganized. I agree that research steps #1-#4 are key to defining the necessary focus before jumping into the vastness of the internet.

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