There’s plenty of useful information out there about how writers conduct research for their stories. Still, I suspect it’s a question many beginning writers still wonder about. I’m one of them, and I still wonder about it! I won’t repeat much of what is said here or here (both full of great advice) but instead I’ll just mention how I do my research.
If I had to name the two phases of my research, I’d call them “mood” research and “bracket” research. Before I began writing a story, I conduct some general research on my topic time period, geographical setting, etc. This is to let the world of the story percolate in my mind for a while, to put me in the mood of the story, to immerse me in being there (and then).
This research is online for the most part, though I often supplement it with books from the local library. The usual caution about the accuracy of information available on the internet applies here. I’ve never made a trip to the area where my stories are set, but I really should, and someday I’ll do that. Sometimes I’ve set my stories in regions where I have already been, so some of the mood research is already done.
After I’ve done my mood research and begin writing the story, I always come up against some question not answered by any of my previous research. This is often some little thing, some detail I’m not sure of. This lack of knowledge comes at a time when I’m in the zone, writing along and I really don’t want to be distracted by stopping to conduct further research. Time for bracket research. For example, say I’m writing about two women in Switzerland chatting in a house, and it’s about the year 1600 or so. What would they be drinking? Coffee? Tea? Wine? Rather than puzzling too long about it, or stopping the flow of words to surf for the answer, I just put the question in brackets: [What are they drinking?] and continue on. The story might end up being littered by many of these bracketed questions. Later I just search for the brackets, research each question, and edit the manuscript accordingly.
Some writers hate research and have to force themselves to do it. Not me. I love it and will gladly spend time doing that rather than write. I call it the suction problem. It’s the same effect I experience when walking through a shopping mall in the vicinity of a bookstore. A localized variation in the gravity vector causes me to slip along the floor toward and into the bookstore. I sure get strange stares from other shoppers as I slide along backwards or sideways in the grip of this suction force. Only by an extraordinary effort is it possible for me to resist. (It helps to wear rubber-soled shoes for traction, and to find building support columns I can grab.)
It’s the same way with research, both the mood and bracket types. I have to force myself to stop researching and return to writing. After all, the end goal is to submit a reasonably good story while I’m still alive, not spend my remaining years combing through every bit of reference material on the subject. Recognizing that end goal and being aware of my preference for eternal researching helps me focus.
So that’s how Poseidon’s Scribe does his research. How do you do yours? Write to me here with your comments.