Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Writing craft: Research and other necessary evils

Now playing on the iPod - "The Boxer" - Simon and Garfunkle

I'm the first to admit that research is my least favorite part of the writing process. I know it's necessary but it feels like an impediment. I want to get to the writing, damn it! I don't have time to worry about every little technical detail.

Well, the bad news is that some research has to be done at some point. And if you're writing, say, historical fiction not only will you have to do a lot of it, but you'll have to love that part of it. (This sums up why I love reading historical fiction but am not going to attempt it any time soon.)

The good news is that there are ways to make research fun for you.

1. The Internet is your friend. The beauty of the Web is that quick answers are readily available. Little details that I've needed - the layout of the Green Bay airport, drink recipes, the symbolic/holistic meaning of gemstones and crystals - are just a few clicks away. The usual caveats apply, of course, but if nothing else it's a good starting point.

2. Have weird friends. My mom once asked me if I had any normal friends, to which I replied, "No." (She said, "That's what I thought.") Well, that's not a bad thing: my circle of friends includes a gunsmith, someone who's worked in both a hospital and a morgue, someone who knows a lot about women's college basketball, an army brat, people who've worked in theater/TV/music, and engineers of various sorts. And thankfully most of them are perfectly comfortable with me asking things like, "What kind of gun would this rogue secret agent carry?" and "How much does a human head weigh?" People love to be asked about things they know about, just make sure you include them in your book's acknowledgements

3. Entertain yourself while you learn. Not all research has to be dry-as-dust. If you write mysteries, thrillers, or any book in which mayhem happens (even mainstream books can have plenty of mayhem), by all means check out Dr. D. P. Lyle's books Forensics & Fiction and Murder & Mayhem, which answer all sorts of questions sent in by readers, from the straightforward to the esoteric ("Do zombie killers leave behind forensic evidence?"). Also of note is the Howdunit series of books from Writer's Digest Books. I've referred to Deadly Doses (poisons), Body Trauma (wounds and injuries), Cause of Death (forensics), and Missing Persons. Some are no longer in print but used copies are readily available on Amazon. Not only are the books informative, they're entertaining as hell and you can use your newfound knowledge to call shenanigans during factually inaccurate TV shows.

1 comment:

  1. I must agree. The internet is a friend indeed. I have dabbled in a bit of fiction, nothing on your scale, and saved many hours of library work by using my good friend the world wide web. Have weirds friends, you say, thanks but I have enough of those already. Enjoying yourself while you learn is a great motto. I will try and track down the books you have suggested and enjoy a little light reading before bed. Keep up the good work.