Today I’m researching an as-yet unwritten story. So many students tell me they love to research, but I’m afraid I get impatient to write. I can’t wait to create characters, drop a heavy millstone of conflict about their necks and set them on their journey.
Writing Tip for Today: I’m sure most writers have a favorite way to research, but here are some things I do:
- Use the Internet. Wisely. Having the Internet at my disposal has saved countless trips to the musty basement stacks at the library. Although I sometimes miss the eyestrain of microfiche, overall, the online resources makes searches faster, and helps me locate the titles of books and articles I may need. Yet there is a danger of looking up a few articles online and calling it the same as exhaustive research. Your readers will be able to tell the difference.
- Borrow or Buy? Older books are often expensive to order, and if it’s historical research, may be difficult to locate. A university library is often helpful, especially for narrow or obscure topics. If it’s a book I’ll need to use again and again, I’ll try to purchase it. Otherwise, I borrow tall stacks of books to kick off the research, take copious notes and put the notes in a 3 ring binder for easy access.
- Other Research Tools. If I’m writing about a specific history period, I’ll watch several movies set in that era. And if I can’t travel to a location, I’ll take an online tour. But I’d like to stress that there is no substitute for experience–readers can often detect whether you’ve been to an exotic place like Nepal, or you just culled a few facts from Wikipedia. We can’t all be world travelers, but we can interview people from far-flung destinations and immerse ourselves in the culture we’re trying to write about. Place pictures of the place or time you are writing about around your work-space, listen to ethnic music or sample foods to familiarize yourself with habits, customs and taboos of the society in which your characters will live.