How To Research
Getting started can be quite overwhelming and may send an author screaming into the vast abyss of reference books, encyclopedias, and the swirling tides of the world wide web. Don’t despair. Using whatever method is comfortable, pen and paper or electronic, start a plot line for the work in question. Get the main points down in chronological order and starting at the beginning, jot down the aspects of the story you are unsure of. For example, the heroine is kidnapped and taken aboard a pirate ship. Sounds easy, yes? Now start asking questions…What type of ship does a pirate sail? This may differ depending on where the pirate sails the salty seas, (the Caribbean, Pacific Ocean, South Pacific, Atlantic Ocean) and in what time period. Once you determine the correct ship, the author now needs to ascertain the layout of the vessel. How many masts, what type of sails are used in different weather conditions (what sailing story is complete without a huge storm?), where is the bathroom, and why is it called “the head”? How many men does it take to crew the ship, what are the duties of each level in the hierarchy of the crew? What would one expect to eat? Sleeping arrangements, and clothing? (no zippers or Velcro)
As you can see, the importance the object of your research has in the plot will determine how much you need to know to make the situation real and believable. Pay attention to little details, what types of knots are used in what situation, the salt from the sea water crusts on the skin and itches when it dries. Types of marine life in the area. The attention to small details will make your reader’s experience richer and more enjoyable.
Continue down the plot list and research each point thoroughly. Keep notes of the sources of information; websites, reference books etc. I find it is easiest to catalogue the research references by subject at this point. We will discuss this further when I talk about the importance of being organized. (5 PM post)
Don’t rush the research process and cut corners. This practice will inevitably come back to bite you in the butt, guaranteed. An important thing to note, you cannot change actual events to suit the story line. The author can add a fictitious character and let them interact with characters and events, but not to change history. General George Custer did not survive the Battle of The Little Big Horn, however, a fictitious soldier could have. An author cannot change who shot JFK. This is very important in books aimed at school age readers who will take what they read as fact. The author of the Middle Grade or Young Adult genres may be hoping to get their books into a school curriculum. If this is the case, then the thoroughness of the research must be impeccable. Reviewer and teachers will not be impressed if your facts are blatantly incorrect. Keeping this in mind, my next post speaks to the conundrum: How much is too much? Part Three will post at 1:00 PM